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Thread: Two Horses for a King

  1. #1
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    Two Horses for a King

    Two Horses for a King
    Steven Hunley

    Squire Bertram felt tired but safe. He’d hiked over two miles from Jaffa’s protective walls. The young man was north of the enemy’s encampment, and could see Saladin’s apricot banners flying between the green and grey olive trees in the distance. Scintillating heat waves rose in twisting bars across the landscape in every direction, and the sun was at its zenith.

    “There’s not one heathen who feels like fighting within half a mile,” he calculated. “After yesterday, they’re afraid to come out of their tents, too busy licking their wounds.”

    A ravine looked sheltered, inviting, and green, as if it might have water.

    “I have time to hike back in two hours, and enough left to see the armorer about the King’s chain mail, and find red paint for his shield. For each dent the Saracen unbelievers smashed, for every link split by the point of their lances, may those pagan dogs rot in the eternal fires of Hell.”

    He strode down the defile stridently, perhaps too stridently for a boy of seventeen. When he rounded a clump of Algum trees and scrub-brush, he changed his step. On the ground, kneeling on a carpet facing east, was a grey-bearded man, wearing patches on his clothes, and a turban. Bertram’s footsteps made the poor old fellow start. Swinging around, his ancient eyes grew immense and his mouth opened as wide as Aladdin’s cave.

    “Wonder of Allah, what are you doing here?

    He squinted at Bertram’s tunic. Three lions standing erect with forepaws raised.

    “You are a Frank!”

    Did this ancient fellow have second sight? More than ever, Bertram felt very far from greenery and safety, and the fertile fields of Aquitaine.

    ©Steven Hunley 2013

    To be continued…
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 06-19-2013 at 05:59 PM.

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    I have no idea where it's going but its good. Get on the continuation. As for writing help I'm pretty useless but it's very nicely detailed.

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    Good, interesting start to the tale Steve.
    You either get em or lose em in the first chapter.
    You got my attention.
    Let it flow bud.

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    story continued

    But a smile can be a superior weapon, and the most disarming. The man stood up and towered over Betram ominously at first, then reached out and extended his hands, looked back and forth on the sun-baked ground and grinned.

    “You see I haven’t any weapons, and if anyone should be afraid it is I. You’re the dangerous stranger far from home, and may be a warrior who left his humanity behind when he decided to take up the cross and the sword. I’m only a weak old man of faith, a true believer, stopping to pray on a patch of land my nephew owns by rites.”

    “What rites are those?"

    “The rites of war. It is my nephew's will to unite Syria and Egypt, all the land between, and expel the infidels.”

    Bertram no longer feared the ancient fossil. He’d known plenty of old people in his home town who were mavericks, or hermits, and shunned society, couldn’t put two words together, always spouting grandiose schemes, badly affected in the head. Sun-addled or moon- struck, certainly this man was no different.

    “I can see you’re no soldier,” Bertram replied. “I no longer fear you; it was a gut reaction.”

    “Good, then we can relax our guards. Here, sit with me in the shade of this date palm. It must be the hottest time of the day.”

    “I agree, and I have been hiking for over an hour.”

    The shade was not much better, but provided a few degrees of relief. A cut on Bertram's finger was infected and began to sting, sand flies began to bite, and his thirst finally got the best of him.

    “Have you any water?”

    “Oh, of course, I should have offered.”

    Behind a few bushes the old man had tethered a fine silver Arabian stallion.

    ‘Where did an old beggar like him with patches on his clothes get a horse like that? Perhaps he stole it,
    ’ thought Bertram and scratched his head.

    From the saddle he lifted a camel skin pouch and took a few steps to a hole in ground so overgrown you couldn’t see it unless you knew it was there. He tied on a rope and threw it in. After a minute he drew it up and they drank and washed their hands. Then the old man took a hand full of fat brown dates from a bag and shared them.

    “Forgive me. I should introduce myself,” said the old man,” I’m Asad ad-Din Shirkuh bin Shadhi , uncle and advisor to Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb sultan of Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine.”

    He gave a magnificent bow, one that could pass for authentic in the court of any king.

    “Of course you are,” said Bertram and bowed accordingly. “I should have known.”

    Bertram squared his shoulders.

    “And I am Bertram, squire to Richard, King of England, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittany.”

    “It is an honor to make your acquaintance.” The advisor replied as deferentially as possible.

    Neither one of them took the other seriously, but when stranger doesn’t want to reveal his identity you give him a slack rope and leave him at that. If he’s lying, or a rogue, he’ll hang himself soon enough.

    The sun had reached the center of the sky long ago and it was getting late. Both had pressing appointments.

    “I must leave now,” said the singular example of the Saracen horde, touching his heart and his lips and his forehead. “Peace be upon you, and allow you to return to your home intact.”

    “And to you too,” replied Bertram, “God’s speed.”

    An hour later the Sultan's most trusted advisor was threading his way between soldiers sharpening their Damascus blades, cooking lamb kabobs over fires, shoeing their horses, and writing letters to wives and lovers and children back home. The wind lifted clouds of fine brown sand, fashioning swirling dust devils that danced between the apricot banners like whirling dervishes.

    He stopped where men working on a hole in the ground were lining it with straw. Unfastening a bag of spring water from his saddle, he gave it to one of the men who sat it next to the evaporation trays.

    “Do you think it will be cold enough tonight?” he ancient one asked.

    “If God wills it, ” the man replied. “By tomorrow morning Saladin will have ice.”

    When Bertram finally reached the wall of Jaffa, he saw a figure, probably one of the stone masons repairing the wall, running up to him at an alarming rate. But no, he was mistaken. It was the king’s physician.

    “The king has come down with a great fever, Bertram. See him at once.”

    “Was he injured? How could that happen? My king is invincible.”

    “It’s not a wound,” he shook his head. “We’re not sure what it is. I wish I had the knowledge of a local physician. Their medicine is advanced, and they are familiar with the local maladies. Don’t bother going as far as the gate, just crawl over the rubble here. You’ll save time.”

    Bertram climbed into the city though a break in the wall caused by Saladin’s great siege engines, where only a day before the Crusaders had stopped it up with lances and swords and hundreds of men. After he cleared the rubble he broke into a run towards the tower.

    “When your king calls, his armorer has to wait.”

    ©Steven Hunley 2013

    to be continued....
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 06-20-2013 at 10:42 PM.

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    story continued

    While Richard lay in a sweat, two physicians hovered over him like Egyptian Vultures, scowling at each other, circling what they prayed was his deathbed, wondering who’d get first bite.

    “I’m betting he’s not going to make it. Any idea what’s wrong with him?”

    “It’s a fever, but what from? I have no idea.”

    “I’m on his list of inheritors ever since I dressed his wounds in Acre.”

    “That’s nothing; I’ve been with him since he humbled the rebels in Bayonne, Angen, and Chateaunroux.”

    “Then you have priority as to treatment.”

    Taking their eyes off each other they returned to their royal patient.

    Although the day was scorching hot, the giant lay prostrate, shivering in his sheets. His strawberry hair and beard were sweat-soaked; his square shoulders shook with minute tremors that never seemed to stop. Whatever speech he possessed was made up of incoherent fevered ramblings in exotic places, linguistically indecipherable to strangers.

    Suddenly an outburst of coherence, “Where is my squire? Where is squire Bertram? And what has he done with my sponge?”

    “Oh, there he goes again, hallucinating, thinking he’s back in Cyprus or on his trireme.”

    “Or imagining he’s on his way to Carthage to meet Hannibal and Alexander and divide the Mediterranean between the Big Three Powers.”

    It was so absurd the two laughed like two jackals. One looked slyly around and whispered to the other, “We can always bleed him, and purge him of the evil humors that plague him.”

    “Letting a pint or two of blood never hurt anyone. It’s the best treatment to ensure his continued health.”

    Ahem,” graveled a voice to announce its presence. “That’s not the answer, and he’s lucid. He wants me and he wants this. Now step aside and let me pass.”

    The young man was nearly six feet and only seventeen. He carried a basin of water and a sea sponge like a crown and scepter and spoke with a tone of authority. The two shot each other a glance and retreated. Bertram dipped the Kalymnos sponge in the water and dabbed the king’s forehead. He’d cut the sponge square from Richard’s helmet padding.

    Richard came around and opened his eyes.

    “Go to the alcove and fetch a pen and paper. I want to write a letter.”

    Bertram found the quill pen but had trouble finding a sheet of paper. The table was littered with documents. Letters from home, warning of John’s latest snatches for power, letters from his mother Eleanor who'd just seen the pope, ones from Philip, dispatches from his barons, his wife, his sister, his fleet, his army commanders. Finally, buried under them all, clean sheets of parchment. He remembered what Richard revealed to him in confidence only a few weeks before.

    “Take note, Bertram. Being a king is much like being a clerk; you become expert at pushing pens and papers around. It’s not a bad life for many.”

    They were in the mightiest stone tower in Acre. A flight of swallows circled upwards in a spiral designing a dozen black-paper cut-outs. They flew in unison against the western sky, above the crenelated battlements, as if they weighed nothing. Their avian souls had shed every earth-bound responsibility, and granted them permission to soar. It was dusk, and Bertram was lighting a candle.

    When it flared and sputtered, for a fraction of a second every inch of the table was illuminated. Piled with red pots of sealing wax, white quill pens in glittering crystal stands, and ominous stacks of forbidding paper, the table threatened Richard more than any fortress wall manned with soldiers.

    “But on the whole, mind you,” he mused reflectively, “I’d rather be swinging my two-handed sword.”

    Bertram grabbed a quill and parchment, some wax, and returned to the sickbed. With Herculean effort Richard turned over and took the pen. The message was short, and marked by a trembling hand. Bertram folded it and dripped on a puddle of red wax. He steadied the kings’ hand welding the royal seal.

    “There,” said Richard, and collapsed flat on his back. “This is for Saphadin, the Sword of Faith. His messenger is downstairs. Saphadin will see it gets to his brother.”

    Bertram put on his cloak, tucked the paper in his belt and ran out the door. The last thing Richard heard was the rapid scuffle of foot leather down the spiral staircase. The sound wore away slowly like unfired cuneiform tablets exposed to a storm, disappearing footstep by footstep, note by note.

    And then his head went blank.

    ©Steven Hunley 2013

    To be continued…
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 06-25-2013 at 01:28 AM.

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    On the fragrant sandalwood divan, though his royal bottom rested on a down-stuffed silk pillow, the Sultan of Egypt shifted his weight back and forth. To an older man slight of build, there just wasn’t enough cushion.

    “It’s these festering boils. They sting like black scorpions!”

    His grey-bearded physician ran up with a potion. It tasted like Citrus and Saladin wasn’t sure what else when he swallowed it.

    “What have you given me?”

    “Bergamot and gum of Morpheus mixed into a savory elixir favored by the Minoans.”

    Saladin could barely contain himself. Offended by incompetence, he smoldered.

    “Have you not noticed?” he threw open the flap of his tent. “We’re in the middle of an assault.” A troop of cavalry rode by slumped in their saddles and saluted weakly. Men everywhere were busy loading and unloading donkeys and camels. Not one man or animal was still, yet all looked exhausted. The doctor diagnosed them holistically.

    “Both you and our army need to rest and regroup,” he advised. “ The potion will only last a few hours, and facilitate lancing the boils. Rest now, great Sultan, and I’ll wake you when I’m prepared.”

    Saladin’s head had already begun to swim, an irresistible result of the potion on his empty stomach. Besides, whether by circumstance or superior strategy, generals are sensitive to when they’ve been beaten.

    “If you insist, but only for a nap.”

    He didn’t care to rest, and had no stomach for opium. He looked upon both as evils, and considered that men who lived by the book of the profit should resist the starting of evil no matter how inconsequential it seemed. It was the nose of a camel poking into his tent. Saladin paused, considered, and steeled his resolve.

    “After the sleeper has awoken,” he advised his physician. “The general will return to blood-letting, and the statesman to his affairs of state.”

    He got up and disappeared to his cot hidden behind a roll up curtain made of fine river reeds.

    The physician was about to leave, but paused near a table stacked with dispatches and decrees. There was one from Damascus and one from Tikrit. Others lay scattered on the table. He even recognized a message from a school chum he’d known and competed with, a fellow who once helped him with chemistry.

    A year before graduation Hakeem went mystic and gave up university life to become a Sufi. He said he wanted to study older works, secrets more universal and mystical in nature, with roots deeper and more far reaching than the recent rise of Islam and Christianity.

    Now for some reason he was writing to the Sultan. Look, it was partially unfolded and the seal was broken. Yes, there was the word healing. Curiosity overcame the old physician and he read the contents.

    Sultan of Egypt, Defender of the Faith,

    As we discussed we would only need a squad of men to search for the hidden spring. It is said to be only a few camel steps from the north wall in the overgrown ruins of Old Jaffa. According to an ancient manuscript by Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi I found in Cordoba, the legend says it’s the spring of life whose waters possess miraculous healing powers. It should be located and protected before the infidels have an opportunity to gain it, or the chance you will poison it accidently yourself when you poison the wells around Jaffa to deprive the invaders of water in the same manner as Hattin.

    Your servant,


    “How foolish is he? Why, it sounds like one of Scheherazade’s tales from the Thousand and One Nights, to my way of thinking. It’s no wonder he was expelled from school! He will be fortunate if the Sultan even considers entertaining fantastic ideas in times such as these.”

    He refolded the packet and tossed it back with the rest, and left to sharpen his lancets and prepare healing unguents.

    ©Steven Hunley 2013

    To be continued…
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 08-20-2013 at 11:29 PM.

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    Two Sudanese bodyguards stood like immense ironwood sentinels on either side of their general’s tent. In the cold morning light you could see one had his arms folded across his chest, while the other’s free hand played with the ivory handle of this scimitar and his other hand clutched at his kaftan, wrapping it tightly about him, trying to keep warm.

    “The coffee bearer is late again. Where could he be?”

    “I have an idea he’s close by,” said the other, flaring his already magnificent nostrils. “My nose tells me so. He’s new, and doesn’t know the routine.”

    The top of a silver urn appeared, then a turban, accompanied by the clanking of cups and a voice.

    “I’m sorry I’m tardy, but the caravan from Cairo was late, and I had to help unload the camels.”

    “Never mind the excuses, just give us our coffee.”

    While pouring the coffee the boy looked at the two burly black men and a puzzled expression came over his face. “Why is it the Sultan requires two body-guards while he sleeps surrounded by an entire army?”

    One of the Sudanese smiled grandly, his teeth like precious pearls in the dark setting of his face. As cold as the night had been, now the sun was up and bars of amber light were illuminating the ground mist like in a fairy tale. But in no time at all it would be scorching hot.

    “It’s that way ever since he found an assassin’s note one morning sitting next to a dagger on his pillow. The duplicate tent didn’t fool them one bit.”

    The other took a sip and chimed in. “If an assassin isn’t afraid of dying, there’s isn’t much a statesman or general can do. Anyone can be touched.”

    The boy looked left and right, and shifted his weight uneasily. “Even in camp?”

    “For a man such as Saladin? Twice over, I tell you, twice over. One death for the statesman, and another for the general, even when surrounded by an army of loyal soldiers.”

    The boy took the empty cups and left, more in a hurry than ever. Now the sun was more prominent and illuminated details within the tent. As Morpheus had his way with Saladin, he dreamt restlessly tossing and turning. He made a sound, and the two bodyguards looked in, but saw no motion besides the hunting falcons upon their perch, preening and ruffling their feathers. One feather flew across the room and landed upon a table piled with dispatches and papers.

    Behind the falcons stood the general’s map, drawn on a lambskin, suspended by leather strings, stretched on a wooden portable frame. Pins were everywhere. Ones with pearl buttons marked the positions of caravans from Cairo and Damascus. Ones with carnelian buttons were his troops. Amber buttons signified the enemy, both troops and ships, while lapis-buttoned pins showed the position of significant crusader castles and strongholds like Kerak de Chevaliers, Belvoir, and the Tower of David.

    “Thy neck is like the Tower of David, built with turrets, whereon there hang a thousand shields, all the armor of the mighty men.”

    The body guards drew solace from this Song of Songs, knowing that due to the man sleeping inside the tent, a man secure in their safekeeping, the Tower of David was firmly in Moslem hands. Certainly it was their shields, and they were the mighty men. To the left was the general’s sword, his dagger, chain mail, and armor hung on a dummy, and his helmet was placed upon that. In the corner was a rosewood table where a chess-board waited. The players were carved ironwood and ivory.

    When Saladin awoke later he strode forth, rubbing his uncomfortable bottom. The physician had been harsh in his treatment, and a snake, he decided, had more bedside manners.

    “You must understand,” he said to a servant. “If I were not such a pious man, I would curse this affliction. Now bring me breakfast.”

    He broke his fast with yoghurt and honey. Then, before he finished, and was about to talk to his uncle, his closest advisor, a servant came in carrying a covered dish. Inside were shaved ice and melon slices. The advisor was pleased when he saw the look on his nephew’s face, but being humble, took no credit. Saladin ate a few ice-covered slices and was ready for work, now he felt refreshed, and free of the after-effects of the narcotic.

    “Well, I feel better,” he said, “What have we today?”

    “There are dispatches to deal with and a meeting with your staff. The officers are getting restless.” He looked his nephew in the eyes, “as usual.”

    “Ah yes,” Saladin replied. “As usual. Career soldiers are always spoiling for a fight. Sometimes I imagine they are in league with every sword maker in Damascus.”

    Looking outside his tent he saw the apricot banners flying and heard horses whinnying and sergeants ordering men here and there. Anvils were clanking away, and sounds of rotating stones sharpening swords made for a marshal symphony that wasn’t to his taste. He’d heard it all of his life it seemed, and wondered if it would ever stop. Just as he was lost in thought, a messenger rode up and halted at the threshold of his pavilion.

    “See what that is.”

    When the guard returned he wore nothing on his face but excitement.

    “It’s from the English king,” he said, and thrust it in his hands.

    Saladin went back into his tent, and withdrew into the recess of his innermost chamber. He was gone for some minutes. When he returned there was a gleam in his eye, a gleam never before seen by anyone, not even his uncle. At the same time his walk was steady and he looked quite fit. Holding a message, he announced to his uncle,

    “Take this to Richard and with it my best physician, not that bone-breaker. See to it yourself. And send pomegranates, cantaloupes, and watermelons smothered in mountains of ice.”

    Saladin sat down comfortably on a cushion and waited, “Sometimes a thoughtful gift can be sharper than the edge of a sword… in getting a man what he needs.”

    to be continued.....
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 07-07-2013 at 02:49 PM.

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    Two days later, in mid-afternoon, when surrounded by a dozen advisors, one of the Sudanese bodyguards suddenly left his post and ran into the tent, threaded his way through the advisors making so much commotion Saladin looked up.

    “What is it?”

    The bodyguard took a great gulp of air. “Asad ad-Din Shirkuh bin Shadhi, praise be upon him, is coming. I saw the signal flag dip twice just now.”
    Saladin’s eyes widened and he spun around like a dervish, then stopped. “All of you be off. Guards too. Leave me only a servant.”

    Advisors, nobles, magicians, politicians, generals, all scattered like nervous sheep.

    From the door to his tent you could see far down the path, the land sloped away mildly on all sides. And there, off in the distance, was dust. Then bit by bit his uncle’s horse appeared, with a white head and grey-spotted nose. Directly behind were the standardbearers with their flags whipping in the wind.

    His royal companion was right beside him.

    They rode up and halted in a cloud of dust. Both dismounted. Not to be strangled by dust Saladin held his breath and closed his eyes. When he opened them again his uncle said,

    “Saladin, Sultan of Islam, defender of thy faith, purifier of the holy temple, commander of true believers,” and he took a breath as great as a Jinn, “This is Richard, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Duke of Gascony, Lord of Cyprus, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Count of Nantes, and Overlord of Brittany.”

    Saladin and Richard had both bowed and cocking their heads up shot glances back and forth, as powerful as hidden magnets. Then they regained their composure. It was of such subtlety no one noticed.

    Richard stepped mightily forward and made a gesture to reach out.

    Saladin drew back, raised his hand and curled his fingers and pointed his finger up at the sky and smiled. “I cannot. But know that I honor this occasion, it is not every day I speak to a king.

    Richard stepped back and bowed again making a sweeping motion.

    “Nor I to a Sultan. It is I who am honored.”

    Saladin surveyed the situation like a hawk. His own knights were congregating outside, and the sun was beating down like a hammer. Sun rays reflected off Richard’s chain male and glittered but sweat was on his brow.

    “Come, come into my tent. You must thirst, and we can talk.”

    Before accompanying Saladin into his tent, Richard unstrapped a package from his saddle and carried it to the tent. On the way he took note of the positions of the encampment, where was the water, the highest ground, the condition of the men. He might need to know this later.

    The soldiers were wresting and joking nearby. Their esprit de corps was excellent.

    In the innermost tent they halted. The fragrant sandalwood diaz was on the right. To the left were two tall alabaster vases standing in the corners. About every ten feet was a pole and in sections they were wrapped with colored twine making geometric patterns. On the floor were many rugs of different patterns. Richard looked down at his feet.

    “I like the design,” remarked Saladin. “In a way I made it myself. Of course, it’s just a patchwork.

    Richard looked up into his face. He was dark and slight. His eyes could not be fathomed.

    “You made it?” He gazed at the carpets again. There were dozens, yet they were sewn together as one. “It’s very large. It must have taken some time.”

    “Oh yes, you’re right! It did. You see the set there? The ones in the east quarter? They are the Syrian tribes, when they came under my, well, call it umbrella; each sent me a rug to symbolize their allegiance.

    Those carpets on the west are Egyptian, the ones beneath your feet to the north, Palestinian, then Lebanese, all the rest from various tribes.
    He smiled and looked fondly at all the carpets, as if they were his children and he felt blessed. No, he didn’t feel it, he knew it.

    “My goodness and Praise be to Him that allows this to happen. It’s taken eleven years.”

    “Eleven years.”

    “Yes, and still not done.”

    Richard grew lost in thought for a moment, and then pulled out of it and remembered the gift under his arm. It was a carved rose wood box wrapped in blood-red Chinese silk bound by a hemp knot.

    Inside was a magnificent curved dagger with a gold hand-guard resembling outstretched wings. Its handle was rhinoceros and the pommel was a ball of black star Safire that when held to the light made a silver crescent Mohammedan moon suspended against the blackness of space.

    “Sometimes occasions arise to give gifts generously; and to speak in courtly fashion,” recited Richard.

    He gave the box to Saladin. Saladin gestured to Richard and led him to a corner. There was a large object taller than him, cylinder shaped and covered by a green silk cloth, suspended a foot off the floor. He couldn’t make out what it was, but one time the edge fluttered as if poked by a finger.

    “I agree. He who follows these counsels will never fare badly,” replied Saladin, who’d been good at his lessons too.

    The expression of both of their faces can only be described as joyful when the sultan opened the box and when Richard pulled the cloth off to reveal a cage of the two most magnificent hawks he’d ever seen. Their wings were resplendent even in the half-light.

    They both laughed at the same time, if not like full-grown jackals, and considering their age, like young hyenas. It’s good to be king. Being Sultan is nothing to laugh at either.

    They’d both recited Blondel like two schoolboys and the world seemed cozier than it had a second before. The formality was over and barricades thrown down. These two men from remote kingdoms were obviously thrown together, it was Kismet, and there was nothing to question. It was time to make friends, not war, forming alliances if humanly possible. It’s hard to recognize an angel when he’s wearing armor, or a heart of gold beneath chain male.

    Armored hands clad with steel are clumsy tools. Better to take the gloves off and see what truth two pairs of naked hands can fashion. Even two opposites, one statesman, one soldier, may have goals in common and similar designs for the future.

    to be continued...
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 08-01-2013 at 01:33 PM.

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    story continued

    A servant appeared carrying a chased silver tray heaped high with delicacies, and after finding suitable cushions the men sat down to eat. Within minutes the servant appeared again and produced two more trays. Now the meal looked formidable.

    “This is Mehshi, eggplants stuffed with beef and rice and nuts, this one is Zai Atar, minced beef, and this is cheese manakish.

    Richard’s nostrils dilated regally at the exotic vapors and his royal pupils at the colorful presentation.

    “And this is Kibbeh. It’s minced lamb and bulgar wheat. It’s very popular where I was born and with a rice crust they call it there Kubbat Kalab.”

    Richard took a napkin and wiped the corners of his mouth.

    “And here is my favorite, Kebab Karaz, lamb meatballs with cherries, pine nuts, sugar and pomegranates. We have the Armenians of Aleppo to thank for this.”

    “Would you like wine? I have a local vintage from the slopes of Mount Tabor.”

    “But what about you?"

    “I gave up drinking years ago and it is forbidden."

    Richard arched his eyebrows.

    “Oh, yes! I was untamed in my youth!”

    Richard furrowed his forehead as neatly as any English farmer.

    “It’s true. I had a young man’s measure of wine, women, and song. I paid no attention to the Profit's words. There was a time I was toying with alcohol and gambling.”

    Saladin cast his gaze out onto the encampment and the hills wandering beyond in every direction.

    “But then Allah in a merciful expression of ultimate wisdom wrung me out like a lamb-skin and set my feet upon a more committed path.”

    “The path you’re on to this day.”

    “Yes, the path of a true believer." He looked up. "Praise be Him whose strength lifts me up and will not suffer my feet to falter.”

    “At times I begin to think my only strength comes from inside.”

    Saladin noticed that Richard, even though he was sitting on the largest velvet cushion in the tent, that his legs hung over in all directions. He was a citadel of strength, a giant, whereupon when he looked at his own image reflected in silver incense burned that hung nearby, his reflection seemed slight, almost inconsequential. Yet he was a tower of faith.

    “You may think that’s true. But you also know how a citadel may be surrounded by enemies and fall. Surrounded by adversity, starved, it gives up hope, if it has nothing outside to draw upon for sustenance.”

    “Yes,” Richard answered, “I’m well aware of that.”

    Richard’s aspect grew sullen. The statesman saw it at once.

    “We should take care. Our simple words wrangle too many meanings. We’re discussing food, not war, not politics, not religion. Sustenance is the subject at hand…so eat!”

    Eventually they cleared their plates and were content. In late afternoon the wind changed direction. To capture this effect Saladin ordered attendants to open another section of his tent and close still others. They were sitting almost dead center; this gave them a new view. Saladin had placed his pavilion on a rise. From here you could see east. Richard took note that this particular view could not be seen from the walls of Acre.

    Stretched below were row upon row of tents, organized like a portable city. Certain rows were given over to merchants, others to blacksmiths, and on particular corners, ones marked with apricot banners sporting black Arabic script, long lines of men snaked forth. There were several of these and Richard wondered what they were.

    “Those banners with writing, what do they say?”

    “One moment.”

    A courier arrived just then and Saladin excused himself for a second. The courier was young, exhausted, covered with dust, and could barely stand up straight.

    “See they quarter your horse and rest here tonight. Tomorrow take the dispatches to Cairo. Are you still riding The Rose of Damascus?”

    “Why yes, Caliph, that’s her outside.”

    “Her mother was Jazmynn, known for her sure-footedness, and her father, Abu Zeyd, known for his courage and strength. Take care of her. Still the same color too, like a pearl?”

    “Yes, Excellency, like a pearl that shimmers back and forth between deadly shadow and fertile light.”

    “Ha! Well spoken! Tell my attendants to give you a fragrant bath with rose petals. Have the groom giveThe Rose of Damascus a portion of dates and camel’s milk. Both rider and horse should spoil each other at times, it strengthens their bonds.”

    The King of England looked out over the hills dotted with many colored tents. Cooking fires rose up from portable tent city and curled into the sky and dissipated.

    When Saladin returned he made an apology. “I was official business, my dispatches. It takes over a week to receive one from Damascus.”

    “You’re closer to home than I am,” replied Richard. “Mine take almost a month.”

    “We’re fortunate compared to the soldiers writing home. But to answer your question, the banners you see are scribes. Many of my common soldiers can’t read or write. The scribes are their secretaries and post masters, and write letters for them.”

    “I see.”

    “It’s expensive to send them, and slow. But then carrying on a war far from home is expensive too. You know that.”

    “Only too well.”

    “I would rather spend my dinars hiring teachers in Reed City and have an informed populace of thousands that make good decisions, rather than stock an armory with a million Damascus blades.”

    “It’s true. War can be a costly endeavor.”

    Saladin gazed over at the Koran left open on a folding rosewood stand. His prayer beads marked the page where he’d been reading. Nearby, frankincense and myrrh smoldered in an incense burner whose smoke spiraled like an angel to the top of the tent.

    “And the cost of a life is not figured in Paradise,” he said, “It’s calculated by the number of tears shed by those left behind here on earth.”

    “The worst bloodletting has yet to come.”

    “You mean Jerusalem, naturally.”

    “Naturally, it’s come to that. But as generals we must do what we can to keep losses down.”

    “I agree, and that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? I may have found a solution. In ancient times a victory in battle was often decided by combat between two champions. The common soldiers were spared.”

    “You mean the Greeks? Paris versus Menelaus?

    “Exactly. Like David versus Goliath.”

    “But my best knight, the Flemish baron James d’Avesness is dead.”

    “So is el-Tawil, my knight with a will of fire. But I know the names of two more champions, Richard and Saladin. See the chess board in the corner? That will be the field of battle.”

    The chessboard squares were rosewood and camel bone. The black chessmen were iron wood and the white were ivory. The code of chivalry would be tested, and the ability of a knight to protect the weak and oppressed, and how a general might minimize his casualties.

    “One game?” said Richard, raising his eyebrows, pulling on his beard.

    “On such an auspicious occasion,” smiled Saladin, with eyes like a hawk, “let it be two out of three.”


    ©Steven Hunley 2013
    Concluding chapter to follow

  10. #10
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Two cushions were put on either side of a low table, and when the men took different sides, the battle began. Saladin was cautious in his first moves. Richard began what would seem defensively, but it was only a feint, before long he was on the offense, playing more to his true self rather than from any pre-imagined strategy. Saladin quickly realized he was at a disadvantage. Used to playing with courtiers more concerned with letting him win than providing him with a rigorous game, he found himself out of shape.

    Again and again Richard’s wild tactics kept him off balance. Saladin had the impression he was engaging with Richard at full gallop, but with only one foot in the stirrup.

    The two knights had been engaged all afternoon. Now it was night, and the moon only a sliver of ice against the dark heavens. The camp was silent with small fires here and there, and they were nothing but dying embers. The dark Sultan gathered his kaftan around his slight frame. Richard tugged on his red beard, never taking his eyes off the board. With three moves Saladin was in checkmate.

    At Richard he smiled and nodded his head in resignation, while inside he seethed like a hungry desert lion.

    “That’s one for you,” he said. “I’ll see there isn’t another.”

    “Good!” Richard slapped his knee. “That’s the spirit. Have you any tea?”

    “Directly,” replied Saladin and glanced at the servant, who bowed and left. He returned with tea flavored with Bergamot.

    Richard and Saladin stood up. The tall one put one hand on his back and arched it. The smaller one squeezed the back of his neck with his fingers.

    The second game started out much like the first. Again Richard had Saladin on the run. But as it progressed, places took a different turn. Saladin kept extending his lines until Richard noticed the weak middle and behind that, a Bishop. He charged up the middle with his knights. But to Saladin it wasn’t merely a field of rosewood and camel bone, it was a field of sand, Hattin all over. Before Richard knew it, the captured Bishop turned into a Greek gift. His pieces were decimated in the process and crumbled like the walls of Priam’s Troy.

    Saladin knocked on the board with his knuckles.

    “Now that makes us even. It’s late, or I should say early, with one game left. Let’s stretch, and break our fast with something light.”

    “I own that I’m famished. My energy is flagging.”

    Saladin motioned to his servant. Before long a meceda was spread in the floor, and then in came the silver trays and porcelain dishes, spread in a pattern that radiated outward.

    “These are scrambled eggs with fresh tomato, onions and parsley. This is warm cumin-spiced fava beans with flat bread, topped with zaatar, which is ground beef and feta cheese.”

    “You certainly know how to break a fast, this is as stout as any proper English meal.”

    “And that’s not the half of it. Here are vegetables, and yogurt sprinkled with diced nuts. And we have here a creamy cheese topped with apricot jam. You know, my stomach must be small. I never eat much at one time but can pick like a Javanese Finch all day long.”

    “I’ve been known to carry a mutton chop around all morning. We stuff ourselves at court. You know, you’re an awfully good host.”

    Saladin was pleased. Then Richard grew thoughtful and said,

    “I wanted to thank you personally for the two horses; it was most chivalrous of you. But why exactly did you make me that gift?”

    “Think nothing of it. Regard it as a point of honor between two knights. I found out your horse fell due to a hail of my archers’ arrows. Arrows are indiscriminate weapons, and horses have had the reins on my heart since I was a boy. No knight can do without his steed.”

    Both Saladin and Richard ate and were refreshed. It was early, but not yet dawn, and time to start the last game. They sat down again and began. Having been subjected to each other’s strengths and privy to each other’s weaknesses, the game took on an intensity that was only matched by its importance.

    Every strategic move by Richard was countered by Saladin. Every advance by Saladin was checked by Richard. Hours later nothing had changed. They had both met their match. When the cocks crowed just before dawn, the men sat immobile looking at the board, locked in a stalemate.

    “You know, English king, this 'you against me' pattern is getting us nowhere.”

    “I agree, Oh Most Magnificent Sultan, we should just talk.”

    “I think so too, but my throat is parched, I’ll get ice and fruit.”

    Saladin motioned to the servant and within minutes a deep silver dish was between them filled with ice and slices of pomegranate. The ice itself was rose sherbet.
    “This is the same as the flavored ice you sent me when I was ill,” observed Richard.

    “I ate it too, and my physicians inform me the pomegranate may have therapeutic value.”

    Richard took a slice and nodded. “But you know, with me, it must be the rose flavoring. The day it arrived my stomach could hold down nothing, and I was so fevered I just ate the ice. It was the next day after I’d recovered that I ate fruit.”

    Saladin smiled. “We both like the same things. And we both have many of the same profits, and the Jews too. It’s ridiculous to fight. Sometimes I swear this war isn’t so much over religion as property rights on earth, and who owns the right of way to heaven.”

    “You have a point. I’ll tell you a story.

    At the start of the war I needed to raise a fortune in a short time. I recalled a rich Jew named Melchiedech who lived in Nantes who loaned money at usurious rates. But he was unlikely to lend it of his free will so I plotted and schemed. While at dinner one night I told him it was common knowledge that he was well-versed in religious affairs, and asked him to tell me which of the three laws was the true law, Jewish, Moslem, or Christian.

    But he was wise and too keen for me. He knew I was going to squeeze him no matter what he answered.

    Instead, he related a story about a wealthy man with a fabulous ruby ring. To honor his wealth and position he bequeathed the ring to his descendants forever, but marking that whoever possessed the ring would be regarded as the true heir and head of the family. In this way it was passed down generation to generation until it came to a man with three sons, all handsome and virtuous and well-loved. All three at one time or another begged him for the ring, and he could not make up his mind. He secretly went to a jeweler and had two exact duplicates made. In secret he gave each son a ring and after he died each one claimed the inheritance and produced the ring. They were so much alike the true one could not be recognized. So they put aside the question of who had the real ring and left it undecided, and it is to this day.

    We stood then, as you and I are standing now, the only two men in the room, one Christian, one Jew. You could cut the silence with a dagger.

    “Let me say the same thing to you, my Lord, concerning the three Laws given to three peoples by God our Father which are the subject of the question you have just posed. Each believes itself to be the true heir, to possess the true Law, and to follow the true commandments, but whoever is right, just as in the case of the rings, is still undecided.”

    He’d avoided the trap I’d set for him and I changed tack and asked him directly and made my needs known to him. In the end he gave me all the money I needed and he’s been a friend ever since.”

    Saladin sat back and wiped a sliver of ice from his beard at the same time Richard put one on the tip of his tongue. Frankincense and Myrrh spiraled upward like Pegasus’s tail. Outside the tent beside stately Eucalyptus, the birds of the heavens dwell; and sing among the branches.

    “You know, in your letter you mentioned the need of your soldiers to make a pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I can arrange that.”

    “Yes?” Richard sat upright.

    “And what if you could retain all the land you possess and I retain Jerusalem and allow pilgrims of all faiths to enter and worship under my protection?”

    “Yes?” he sat up even straighter.

    “Your soldiers liberate the city bloodlessly.”

    “Yes! And then we go home.”

    “That would be the idea,” answered Saladin, with a satisfied look on this face that indicated peaceful conspiracy.

    Saladin had never seen Richard’s teeth before, but there they were in a smile. He was pleased. Now Saladin took Richard’s hand.

    “You have the word of Saladin,” he said, and shook it with great vigor.

    When Saladin was watching Richard mount his horse and leave he noted that The King of England and Aquitaine cut quite a dashing figure. His Saracen troopers lined the side of the path as it wandered back and forth between the apricot banners. They were cheering their enemy, the news was already out, for the canvas of the Sultan’s tent was thin and even canvas has ears.

    "Look at him, Uncle, isn’t he magnificent?"

    “Yes, he is without question a most honorable enemy.”

    “It would seem that some men insure their position in life by cunning and valor, success in battle and hard work…”

    “While others are born to wear the purple?”


    “But what puts more pressure on a man, to live by his wits and perform great deeds day after day, or to be expected to achieve greatness because it’s supposed to be part of his character?”

    Saladin said nothing, he was unprepared.

    “And these endless wars, are they in us, like wild dogs, are they part of our baser make-up? If that is true, how can they be about spiritual matters?”

    “Uncle, I’m a statesman and a general, and praise be to He that is Merciful, not a philosopher.”

    Though they planned to meet again after signing the treaty, it never occurred. Come August the blood still stained the sand. In September 1192 Richard set sail for home. In 1193 Saladin died of yellow fever and his relatives tore up his patch-work rug and fought for the scraps like hungry jackals.

    ©Steven Hunley 2013
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 08-20-2013 at 07:47 PM.

  11. #11
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    Hi Steven,

    This was an entertaining tale, and though I'm led to believe that historically, Saladin and Richard never actually met perhaps they should have! You're not the first storyteller to imagine such a meeting, but you do seem to have made them both quite charming almost as charming as Rex Harrison and George Sanders.

    About the story though, I do wondr if you haven't made it a bit too long. The meat of the tale is in the actual meeting between the two principals, so perhaps you could, or even should have dispensed with quite a lot of the preamble. Starting the tale at the point wher Saladin is complaining about his saddle sores would be my recommendation, as it wasn't until Saladin appeared that I really got interested in the story. I think trimming it a bit would make it pithier. Not sure how relevant the menus details were, but they do act as padding. You could probably do away with these as the actual ingredients aren't that important to the tale, not unless they demonstrate something specific like liking the same food, which would reinforce their empathy and mutual liking. You do make a point of this in one place but all the others are over described. It just holds up the action in a short story.

    I did enjoy the last three instalments though, even if they only go to reinforce a long running fictional narrative of the 3rd Crusade. However, the massacre at Acre would have been a bit of an obstacle to mutual respect, methinks :

    Mind you, it probably only happened because Saladin was hard up, and either couldn't or wouldn't pay the ransome for the 2,700 odd Saracen prisoners being held hostage by Richard after capturing Acre. Oh and don't believe Ridley Scott's version of the fall of Jerusalem either. Every one of the Franks he allowed safe passage to, had paid their way out of slavery. Those who couldn't well, they had to do a lot of washing up I guess

    Much enjoyed your tale anyway. Live and be well - H

  12. #12
    Registered User Delta40's Avatar
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    Admittedly I got as far as Squire Bertram and cracked up laughing. I know you deserve much better than this because you're a fantastic writer but do tell me where the f*** you got Squire Bertram from.
    Before sunlight can shine through a window, the blinds must be raised - American Proverb

  13. #13
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Delta40 View Post
    Admittedly I got as far as Squire Bertram and cracked up laughing. I know you deserve much better than this because you're a fantastic writer but do tell me where the f*** you got Squire Bertram from.
    I needed a youngster full of prejudice and venom, someone inexperienced, so I invented him. The rest is (as the saying goes) history. LOL. I'd read that many of the soldiers on the crusade were surprised to find out how sophisticated the Saracen hordes were.

    I wanted to introduce the idea of a healing power in the water that they made into ice. No one but the reader knows about it, and it's used more than once, as it heals both Richard and Saladin, and later contributes to the final solution. Don't know if I made this clear though. You're right about the extensive food descriptions though, I must have got hungry after doing the research!

    Might tighten the beginning too.
    Last edited by Steven Hunley; 08-20-2013 at 11:41 PM.

  14. #14
    Registered User Delta40's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steven Hunley View Post
    I needed a youngster full of prejudice and venom, someone inexperienced, so I invented him. The rest is (as the saying goes) history. LOL.
    LMAO! I was sort of hoping there was some humour in your creation because the name seems so contrived and pretentious and I thought to myself 'Steve isn't serious is he????'
    Before sunlight can shine through a window, the blinds must be raised - American Proverb

  15. #15
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Yeah, we'll just call him Bertie or Bert, he's kind of a clown-like Muppet guy! Pretentiousness is the realm of youth, and this guy reigns supreme.

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