Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sneak Preview: The Opening Scene of "Envoy of Jeusalem"


Tyre, October 1187



The harbor side tavern was filled to overflowing with fighting men. Whether they had escaped the carnage at Hattin, been left to garrison cities that had since surrendered, or come from overseas in ignorance of the catastrophe that had obliterated the Kingdom of Jerusalem, they had all washed up here. It was the only place left for a man still determined to defend the Holy Land to go. Every other city in the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem had fallen in the three bitter months between July 4 and today, October 3, 1187.
Today they had been shaken by the clamorous shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” and the beating of Saracen drums.  They had rushed to the walls prepared to fight off a new assault, only to discover these shouts marked not the start of an attack, but rather a celebration instead.  Riders from the enemy camp, just out of range, pumped their swords triumphantly in the air as they shouted: “Jerusalem! Jerusalem is ours!” Those with an understanding of Arabic translated for the new-comers and less linguistically skilled: Jerusalem had fallen to Saladin.
Most of the fighting men collected in Tyre recognized that the fall of Jerusalem had been inevitable — more so than the fall of Acre, Haifa, Sidon, Gibelet, Beirut, Caesarea, Jaffa, and Ascalon. The latter had been defensible coastal cities capable of reinforcement and supply from the sea and manned by garrisons worthy of the name. But Jerusalem? Jerusalem had been denuded of her defenders when the knights of the militant orders left the city for Hattin. The garrison left behind had been made up of middle-aged merchants, Syrians, Greeks and pilgrims.
Yet while the garrison was old, ineffective and small, the population of the city had swollen with refugees. From along the Jordan valley and other inland settlements, Christian women, children and elderly — all those who had not been at Hattin — had fled to the Holy City after the destruction of the Christian army at Hattin. By some accounts as many as 100,000 Christians had taken refuge there.
And now they were either dead or slaves.
The thought depressed the men in Tyre for while their military minds had known Jerusalem was indefensible their hearts had hoped for a miracle. For many, those native to the Kingdom, it had been a hope fed by the desperation of knowing that it was the only place their own loved ones might yet be free — if they weren’t already in Tyre. After all the defeats of the last three months, this was the worst since Hattin itself.
In the dingy harbor side tavern despair hung in the smoky air. These men had survived to fight another day. They had taken heart when Conrad de Montferrat had sailed into Tyre harbor and spit defiance at the victorious Sultan. They had fought with him and for him, and they had believed that not all was lost after all.
But now Jerusalem was lost. The site of Christ’s passion. The home of the Holy Sepulcher. Lost. What was there left to fight for?
A youth with a lute in his left hand shoved his way between the tables toward the serving counter. He was thin and boney. His light-brown hair was over-long as if he couldn’t afford a barber, and his face was marred by acne. One shoulder hung distinctly lower than the other, and when he tried to hoist himself up to sit on the countertop, he gave a gasp and his face screwed up with pain. The innkeeper shook his head in annoyance and warned in a low growl as he helped him onto the counter, “This better be good, Ernoul.”
Ernoul didn’t answer directly. He sat on the countertop with his feet dangling and settled his lute under his right arm, grimacing slightly as he lifted his left to the neck of the instrument. Then his face cleared. He took a deep breath and played a few chords.  
Some men were talking or dicing, but most had come here to drink themselves into oblivion. They were in no mood for entertainment. The young man on the counter elicited at best indifference and aroused hostility from many. One man called out resentfully: “Go back to your great hall, puppy! Your lord might like a love song, but we’re in no mood for it!”
“How can he? His lord was in Jerusalem!” The man across from the speaker retorted bitterly.
On the counter, Ernoul cleared his throat and began to sing:
“Salah ad-Din, you have the grave,
“And you have made our brothers slaves,

Instantly the squire had their attention. Across the room a dozen desultory conversations stopped and men glared at him. Hostility hung in the air. They didn’t need to have their noses rubbed in it by the likes of this puny and shabby squire!
Ernoul appeared not to notice. He sang in a low, soft, melodic tenor:
But we survived, we are alive,

          The men in the tavern were transfixed. Not a man raised his mug to drink, not a foot clumped on the floor, not a word was spoken. They were staring at the squire as he continued more certainly now in his firm and resonant voice.
Salah ad-Din, you have the Tomb
But it is dark, deserted gloom
For Christ is risen! And by our side!

Ernoul seemed to draw strength from their rapt attention; his voice grew stronger, louder as he continued.
We are with Him, we have no fear
Of you, you army, or your emirs
Christ on our side, we cannot die!

The squire had struck a chord in the dingy tavern, and more than one scarred and bearded veteran found himself close to tears. Others crossed themselves or said the Lord’s Prayer in an affirmation of faith they had too often neglected in the past.
Still Ernoul sang, the melody mutating slightly.

“Christ is with us, Salah ad-Din.
“He is with us, and not with you!
“Christ is with us, we cannot die,
“But we will fight you — “until you do!”

“Hear! Hear!” Some shouted, but his comrades hushed him.
Ernoul raised his voice and though he reverted to the original melody he picked up the pace and volume as he sang out:
“The day will come, when we will win
When we will take Jerusalem
For Him, not us, for Christendom!

We are alive, Salah ad-Din
We are alive and cannot die
We will retake Jerusalem!

With a flourish on the strings and a bow of his head, Ernoul indicated he was done.
For a stunned second no one in the tavern moved, and then they burst into thunderous applause. Some men stamped their feet, others clapped their hands or pounded on the tables with their pottery mugs. The acclamation was so powerful, enthusiastic and unexpected that Ernoul’s ears turned bright red and he readily took the mug shoved at him by the relieved tavern-keeper. The cheers had turned into calls for “Again! Again! Sing it again!”
Ernoul put the mug aside, wiped his lips on the back of his linen sleeve and straightened his crooked shoulders as best he could. The receptiveness of his audience had taken him by surprise; it flattered and elated him like a drug, blotting out his pain. By the time he’d repeated his song two more times, the more musical of his listeners had already picked up the tune. By the fourth time, they were all singing with him. The song that had seemed so melancholy and mourning when sung by a lone squire had become a fighting song laden with defiance and determination.



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