A major theme of "Envoy of Jerusalem" was the fate of Christian captives after Hattin or in subsequent defeats. These men and women, who were enslaved by the Saracens, for the most part disappeared into a perpetual hell, but some were restored by ransom payments and the terms of treaties and truces. Even if freed, these men had lost their possessions and families for the most part and they faced a precarious existence in the vulnerable states that clung to the Mediterranean following the Third Crusade. In this episode from "The Last Crusader Kingdom" we follow the fate of one such man.
The ringing of vespers marked the end of the twelve-hour day at last, and the men dropped whatever they were doing and lined up for their pay. Ayyub nodded his thanks to the clerk as he took the two dinars, and stashed them inside a purse tied to a cord inside his kaftan. He then hastened around the corner and up the street to a small square with a public fountain....Feeling somewhat restored [by a bath], although sore all over, he started up the street to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. He had a plan, but it all depended on Master Moses.
On his release after the Treaty of Ramla, Master Moses―like thousands of other former slaves―had washed up in Tyre. In a city overrun with released captives, he was nothing special, just another ex-slave―and a crippled one at that. No one cared what he’d been before Hattin, and a man of forty-something with just one hand could not compete with hordes of healthier, younger men like Ayyub himself. He had ended up a beggar, and it was in this capacity that Ayyub and Moses had met again roughly a year earlier.
Since then Ayyub had made a point of sharing some of his earnings whenever he was lucky. That was rare enough, and Master Moses was visibly failing. He was permanently bent, skeletally thin, and often mentally absent as well. Ayyub was terrified the former master might be too far gone to help him now.
At least he was sitting in his usual spot, nestled into one of the niches formed by the receding arches of the main portal. He had a dirty rag spread out before him for people to drop coins into as they entered or departed. His unkempt mane of graying hair hung about his shoulders, but it had thinned so much that his scabby scalp showed through in many places. His wrinkled face was dirty and blank. He sat with his knees bent before him and his stump propped on them for all to see: a silent plea for alms.
“Master Moses!” Ayyub called as he reached the foot of the stairs up to the portal and started up them.
His former master’s head swung slowly and stared at Ayyub as he approached. He did not smile in pleasure; he just stared.
“Master Moses.” Ayyub went down on his heels in front of the beggar. “What would you say to working as a master builder again? To building aqueducts?”
“I’d say you’ve gone mad,” came the bitter answer.
“But could you do it? Could you design and build an aqueduct? Like we were going to do together?”
“Have you been drinking or chewing khat?” the master builder asked, narrowing his eyes and eying Ayyub suspiciously.
“Neither! I can’t afford such luxuries. The Baron of Ibelin is looking for a master builder to build aqueducts and sewage drains on Cyprus.”
“I’ve seen more sewage drains than I ever want to see the rest of my life!” the ex-slave growled. “Go away!”
“This isn’t about cleaning them out,” Ayyub protested frantically, his dreams collapsing around his ears. “It’s about designing them and watching other people build them.”
The beggar snorted skeptically and snarled, “What’s in it for you?”
“Just that you take me on as your apprentice, like before: that you take me with you.”
“To Cyprus! Didn’t I already say that? Ibelin wants a master builder willing to go with him to Cyprus.”
“That’s what you say!” Moses scoffed. “Sounds like a drunkard’s dream to me.”
“I’m not drunk. I’m stone-cold sober, and I heard the exchange myself. What’s the harm in trying?”
“Going to find the Baron of Ibelin and presenting yourself.”
Moses ibn Sa’id made a rude noise.
“Come with me!” Ayyub insisted, reaching out to pull Moses to his feet by his forearm.
Moses tried to shake him off, but Ayyub was stronger. “You’re coming with me,” Ayyub insisted.