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Book Two Chapter One

Knights of the Black and White - BOOK TWO

“A traveler went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves ...”

Hugh de Payens did not know who had spoken, and did not even turn his head to see, for what would be taken elsewhere as a biblical quotation was a banality here on the road to Jericho, which had not changed one iota for the better since the days of the Good Samaritan. The dead men in front of them took up all Hugh’s attention. They had been stripped of everything of value and everything that might identify them; their naked corpses, red faced and fish-belly-white everywhere else, confirmed only that they had been from the other end of the earth, from Christendom. They had been slaughtered, then despoiled and left where they had fallen among the desert boulders near the road, and it had happened very recently, for their white-skinned flesh was still largely intact. The vultures had barely begun to feast on them, and black swarms of flies heaved and seethed not only on their wounds but on the pools of blackening, clotted blood that stained the sandy ground. On a boulder above him, one of the carrion eaters stirred and flapped its great, black wings, but made no move to return to its interrupted meal. The newcomers were too close, and it knew from experience that they would attack it.

“Seven of them,” Hugh said to the man sitting beside him. “They must have run into a strong party.”

“Needn’t have been that strong,” the other remarked, his eyes moving restlessly from corpse to corpse. “These fellows have all been arrow shot. Take a look at the holes in them. Not a sword slash or a chop cut anywhere. Three or four archers could have done that. I suppose you’ll want to give them a Christian burial?”

“I think not, Arlo. We don’t even know they were Christian. They might have been Jews, or Levantines. Besides, we have no shovels and it will soon be dark. We can change nothing here. They are dead and thus beyond our help, so let us leave them as they are. No point in even hauling them together into one pile. They’ll only stink the more and take longer to rot. As they are, the vultures and the desert beasts will make short work of them.” He raised his voice so that everyone could hear him. “Shall we ride on, my friends? There’s naught to be done here and we are yet six miles from Jericho, with less than an hour of light remaining. De Beaufort, lead us on, if you will.”

As the group began to move again, de Payens scanned them quickly, then kicked his horse towards the head of the column, where Julian de Beaufort rode straight-backed, his shield slung behind him and the butt of his long spear resting in the cup at his right stirrup, his eyes moving constantly from side to side, on the lookout for brigands. There were eighteen men in the group, all well mounted and heavily armed and armored, wearing chain-mail hauberks, helmets, and leggings, their surcoats marked with the various emblems of the nobles to whom they paid allegiance. Sir Hugh knew most of their faces but few of their names, but all them knew who he was.

Hugh de Payens, at forty-six years of age, was regarded with awe by everyone who met him. A veteran of the sacking of Jerusalem seventeen years earlier, he had become an honored champion of Christendom and a warrior whose prowess was legendary throughout the Holy Lands, not merely in the Kingdom of Jerusalem but in northern Antioch and the other, lesser kingdoms of the region known by then to the Frankish conquerors as Outremer, “the land beyond the sea.” He had taken command of this traveling band by natural ranking, not because anyone had appointe>d him, and there was not a man among them who objected.

Even after seventeen years of occupation, travel within the Kingdom of Jerusalem was more hazardous than it had ever been, because the hills between Jerusalem and Joppa, thirty miles west on the coast, and between Jerusalem and Jericho, which lay about half as far away in the other direction, swarmed with bandits and brigands who preyed on those people—always Franks and usually pilgrims—who used the country’s roads to travel between the Holy Places. Thus it was a matter of mere common sense to wait until a journey, no matter how important it might be or what it might entail, could be undertaken in a large group for common safety and self-defense. This was exactly such a group, although by some strange chance, it was composed purely of knights and men-at-arms, with no pilgrims and no merchants. But even among these professionals, there was a grateful acknowledgment that, under Hugh’s command, they were in the company of a veteran who knew exactly what he was doing.

Hugh rode in silence for a while, alongside Sir Julian, and he was aware, without any need to look, that Arlo rode close behind him, as he had for the past four decades. But he knew, too, that neither he nor his faithful retainer felt completely at ease here, because this journey to Jericho had been unplanned, and they had long since learned that survival in Outremer relied upon careful planning before committing to any journey. Only a few days earlier, however, a man had come looking for Hugh de Payens, with word from his oldest friend, Godfrey St. Omer. According to the messenger, whom Hugh had distrusted on sight as a shifty-eyed, duplicitous scoundrel who would tell any lie in the hope of profit, St. Omer was now in the care of the recently formed Order of the Knights of the Hospital at their secondary hospice in Jericho, recovering from atrocities inflicted upon him while he had been a slave in the hands of the Muslims.

That had been an astounding piece of information, because Hugh had not seen or heard from Godfrey in years, and his first reaction was that this summons must be a hoax. St. Omer had remained at home on his family estates in Picardy years earlier, in 1107, when Hugh himself had returned to Outremer. Godfrey had retired there with the full concurrence of Count Hugh of Champagne, to be with his ailing wife, Louise, who had fallen gravely ill of some paralyzing affliction five years earlier, soon after Godfrey had returned from Palestine. But a full decade had elapsed since then, and Hugh was convinced that if Goff had intended to return to Outremer he would have contacted his old friend and brother-in-law through the Order of Rebirth. And so he instinctively distrusted the bearer of the message from Jericho.

On reflection, however, he had quickly understood that his suspicions made no sense, since had Godfrey not been in Jericho, the fellow would have had no basis for his tale, and so he had told Arlo to make ready for a journey and to find a suitable party with whom they could travel as soon as possible.

Count Hugh himself had returned to his County of Champagne the previous year, after a brief stay of little more than a year in Jerusalem, and so Hugh obtained permission to travel to Jericho from Lucien of Troyes, the Count’s deputy in the Holy Land. De Troyes, a fellow member of the Order of Rebirth, knew Godfrey of St. Omer well, so his permission had been immediate, even while he himself was preparing to return to France within the coming few days.

“So, Sir Hugh, may I ask what takes you to Jericho so hastily?” De Beaufort had turned in the saddle to address de Payens, but as the older man jerked his head and looked back at him, startled out of his reverie, the other raised a hand quickly. “Forgive me, I was merely being curious. I had no wish to pry. But you did say you had not planned to make this journey.”

De Payens waved a hand, dismissing de Beaufort’s apology. “I am not offended. I received word that an old friend is in the care of the hospital in Jericho, released but recently from captivity among the Turks. I had not known he was even in the Holy Land, let alone that he had been taken by the Mussulman. For many years I relied upon his wife, my sister, Louise, for all my information, but I have not received a letter from her in more years than I care to count, and now I find I do not even know if she is still alive. Have you—?” De Payens glanced at the younger man and answered his own question. “No, you have not. You are too young. You will find, however, that as you grow older, time has a way of accelerating. I had no idea until two days ago that twenty years have passed since I first came to Outremer, although I have been home since then ... but seven years have fled since I last heard word from my sister.”

Riding behind the two knights, Arlo listened to what was being said, smiling to himself and taking note of the way de Beaufort listened wide-eyed to every word Sir Hugh uttered, for he knew de Beaufort would benefit by this encounter and the conversation that was taking place. Sir Hugh de Payens was famed for many things, but being friendly and talkative with strangers was not one of them. He was, in fact, notorious for being brusque and taciturn, a man of high principles, dark moods, and unflinching opinions who preferred his own company and actively encouraged the world to avoid him. That he was actually passing the time of day and sharing personal information with de Beaufort was extremely unusual and would not go unremarked.

De Payens had not always been unfriendly or distrustful. That had been a gradual transition, brought about over a decade of hard living and life lessons harshly learned, but Arlo knew that the final phase of the transformation had been triggered on the day Jerusalem fell, on the fifteenth of July, a Friday, in 1099. It had been Hugh’s twenty-ninth birthday. The full extent of his transformation proved to be deeply unsettling, leaving many of the knights unsure of how to deal with this man they had thought they knew.

They need not have bothered to wonder, for de Payens had simply stopped dealing with them, having decided that he desired no truck or commerce with any of the self-styled “Christian” warriors and their blood-lusting hypocrisy. Hugh de Payens lived in a self-imposed exile of silence, surrounded by others but interacting with none of them, except when his duty demanded that he act as part of the army. When one knight, noted for his intolerance and hot temper, believed he had been slighted by Hugh’s silence, he grasped de Payens from behind, to wrench him around and face him. Hugh spun and felled him with a single, straight-armed blow to the forehead that left the man senseless. Later that day, as evening approached and the other knight felt sufficiently recovered to convince himself that he had been caught unawares, the fellow renewed the quarrel, attacking Hugh with a bare blade, which was against all the laws of the armies. De Payens disarmed him immediately and almost casually, using a heavy oak cudgel to snap the man’s sword blade, and then he thrashed him severely enough to remove all doubts from everyone’s mind about the wisdom of trying to thrust themselves uninvited into the awareness of the knight from Payens.

After that, word spread quickly that de Payens was crazed and, except in the execution of his knightly duties, would speak to no one other than his servant. In the eyes of his fellow knights, he had crossed out of heroism and into madness, but no one ever sought, or attempted to supply, an explanation for his bizarre behavior. It was simply accepted that he had been accursed somehow during the sack of Jerusalem. And thus Sir Hugh had become something of a soldiers’ legend, his exploits and his eccentricities widely reported and remarked upon, so that even after he returned to Christendom, men continued to talk about him, his strange notions, and the reputation for military prowess, ferocity, and bravery that no one begrudged him.

Summoned home with his friends by their liege lord, Hugh had returned to Champagne in the year after Jerusalem’s capture, and there, for the first six years of the new century, he had immersed himself in studying the Lore of the Order of Rebirth, traveling the length and breadth of his home country, from northern Flanders to Languedoc in the far southeast, to study with some of its most learned scholars and teachers. Thinking privately about that time in later years, Hugh regarded the period as the most enjoyable time of his life. Surrounded by his peers, none of whom bore any guilt for what had happened in Jerusalem, he had lived what was, for him, a full and normal life, where his daily weapons training was the only diversion open to him and his entire duty otherwise revolved around study and learning.

Early in 1107, however, he had been summoned before a plenary meeting of the Order’s Governing Council and had been charged with returning immediately to Outremer, there to establish contact with as many brethren of the Order as he could find, and to keep them aware of their oaths while they awaited further instructions from home on how they must proceed when the time was judged to be right. It crossed Hugh’s mind at the time, right there in front of the entire tribunal, to ask for more specific information regarding that timing and its rightness, but he resisted the impulse, telling himself that he would be informed of everything he needed to know when that need arose. In the meantime, he was informed, he would ride as one of a company of one hundred knights and three hundred men-at-arms raised by the Duchies of Burgundy, Anjou and Aquitaine in response to requests from the King and the Patriarch Archbishop of Jerusalem. He would be attached to the contingent from Anjou and would come under the command of whomever was appointed by Count Fulk to represent him in Outremer.

Excited by the prospect of putting his newly acquired learning to good use, he had gone looking for Montdidier, to try to persuade Payn to sail back with him, but Payn had been in England, visiting his wife’s father at Sir Stephen’s great castle in Yorkshire, and Godfrey, Hugh already knew, was unable to accompany him either, being at his home in Picardy, looking after his sick wife. Hugh had felt guilty about not having made the time to go and visit his ailing sister, whom he had not seen since the death of their mother five years earlier, and now he found there was not enough time for him to travel to Picardy to see her. He had contented himself with writing to her, a long, rambling letter of the kind he enjoyed writing and he knew Louise loved to read, and then, reluctantly, he had set sail for Outremer without his friends, on his way to Malta, the ship’s first port of call, within two weeks of his meeting with the Council. Less than half a year after that, he was back in Jerusalem, noticing the changes that had been effected in his absence.

Primary among those was that the Kingdom of Jerusalem had become a reality. The scruples expressed by Geoffroi de Bouillon, when he refused to wear a golden crown where Jesus had worn thorns, had not extended to his more ambitious brother Baldwin, and when de Bouillon had died after only a year as Advocate of the Holy Sepulcher, Baldwin had been quick to claim the throne. Since then, he had been working hard, and admirably, people said, to consolidate and strengthen his new kingdom, and hand in glove with that to stabilize Christendom’s hold in Outremer, including the Principality of Antioch and the Counties of Edessa and Tripoli, deftly juggling the ambitions of the various lords involved and ensuring that each of them contributed to the support of Jerusalem itself as the administrative center of all Outremer.

The city no longer stank of corruption, its stench burned away by the desert sun years earlier, but apart from its occupying garrison it still lay virtually derelict, with only a few civilian inhabitants, most of those Christians. The King himself had taken over the magnificent al-Aqsa Mosque, the site of the Dome of the Rock, and had converted it into his royal palace. The fact that in doing so he had scandalized and offended all devout Muslims mattered nothing to Baldwin, but it had also done nothing to help his efforts to repopulate the city.

The newcomers from the great duchies were made welcome with great panoply and pomp by King Baldwin, and he made no secret of how great his need for them had been, and would remain. His kingdom was small—as indeed was the total area of all the “redeemed” lands of Outremer, a slender chain of holdings running north to south, with the Mediterranean Sea lying on its western flank—and it was threatened along its entire western perimeter by an enormous  host of Muslims, outnumbering the Frankish conquerors by more than twenty to one, according to highly conservative and optimistic estimates. That reality forced Baldwin and his military commanders to maintain a constant readiness, poised to respond at once to any threat to their borders, grateful for a lack of cohesion on the side of the enemy. The Seljuk Turks, the nominal overlords of an empire that had lasted for a hundred years, had never recovered from their ignominious defeats by the Frankish armies in 1098 and 1099. They had forfeited their supremacy among the Muslim peoples of the desert and no one else had yet stepped forward to take it up, so that the Frankish army, small as it was, had never had to be deployed against any major alliance of Muslim groups and had succeeded, to this point in 1116, in fighting off any invasion of its territories. The newcomers from Christendom, four hundred strong and both self-sufficient and adequately equipped, represented a considerable improvement in the strength and readiness of Baldwin’s forces, and after an effusive welcome, they were absorbed into the military fabric of life in Outremer.

Hugh’s re-entry into the daily life of Jerusalem and its kingdom forced him to make a decision that was to affect his entire life. During the years he had spent at home after his return, he had been content among his own brotherhood, immersing himself wholeheartedly in duty, work, and study and requiring little in the way of what other men considered normal. He had developed little interest in women, not because he disliked them but simply because he seldom found himself in female company and felt no compelling urge to pursue it, but he would have been surprised to realize that many people who knew him thought of his life as verging on monastic. Hugh had known a few women carnally, from time to time, but he had never been tempted to develop any kind of relationship with any of them, and early in his manhood he had come to accept that he could, whenever he so wished, allay any insuperable sexual longings without great difficulty, since women, when he sought them out, appeared to find him attractive. The fundamental truth of his existence, although it was one that he never thought of, was that chastity became an incidental product of a way of life dominated by attendance to duty, responsibility, and solitary study.

Among his own family and his brethren in the Order of Rebirth, Hugh de Payens could be himself, with no inhibitions and no constraints on his behavior. His view of other men, however, knights who were not of the Brotherhood of the Order, had been gravely distorted by what he had witnessed in Jerusalem on his twenty-ninth birthday, so that Hugh now accepted, rightly or wrongly, that hypocrisy, hatred, bigotry, and ruthless intolerance contaminated the entire Christian Church and its military adherents.

In consequence of that, soon after his arrival back in Outremer, Hugh had voluntarily cut himself off again from all intercourse with anyone who did not belong to the Order of Rebirth and had concentrated all his attention on finding other brethren. He soon discovered, however, that the task he had been assigned by the Order was a far from simple one, and the information from which he had to work was tenuous at best. According to the reports compiled by the armies after the capture of Jerusalem and verified by the Order from its own records, there had been a total of thirty-two knights of the Order in Outremer at the beginning of the century, but the challenge of finding them would be enormously difficult, and convening them after that, Hugh knew, would be nigh on impossible. He was skeptical of the reliability of the lists of survivors compiled after the capture of the city, for the casualties among the Christian armies before the victory, on the route from Constantinople via Antioch, had been appalling, and the powers-that-be had been at great pains to present their conquest in the best possible light. That, in turn, had led to many dead men being reported as having voluntarily remained in Outremer.

Despite that and other difficulties, however, Hugh had managed to establish contact with several of his brethren within the first year, but he had been unable to arrange for any of them to attend a gathering of the kind the Order used so effectively at home. That failure, coupled with the distances involved in traveling anywhere in Outremer and amplified by the dangers presented by the swarming hordes of Muslim soldiers infesting the desert hills flanking all the roads, made it inevitable that, over the course of time, Hugh would forfeit his enthusiasm for such an unrewarding task.

Year after year elapsed with no word reaching him from Champagne or from the Order of Rebirth. Of course, silence and secrecy being what they were to him, he said nothing to Arlo about his doubts and disappointments about his superiors in the Order and their failure to do anything more about promoting the brotherhood’s supposed mission in the Holy Land, but he found himself growing cynical about the Order as the years passed in silence and nothing happened.

For his part, Arlo, being loyal to his very core, watched and listened carefully to everything he was told, and he missed nothing, frequently divining things that Hugh would have been appalled to think he had let slip. Now, listening to Sir Hugh conversing openly with the younger de Beaufort, Arlo reflected that, at last, Hugh seemed to be emerging from his self-imposed silence, and he was glad of it. They made good time on the road, coming into sight of Jericho just before the quickly fading day leached the last of the whiteness from the distant buildings. It was full night by the time they reached the first of the two hostelries in the small town, and their farewells were short.

Two

De Payens and Arlo were astir long before dawn the next day, breaking their fast on sliced cold salted meat between slabs of fresh unleavened bread and washing the food down with clear, cold water from the inn’s deep, stone-lined well before they set out to find the Jericho Hospital. It was a temporary hospice, established only recently on the very outskirts of the town by the Knights of the Hospital in Jerusalem, in response to a virulent outbreak of pestilence among the Frankish pilgrims, and it was not expected to be long in use.

Early as they were, however, they found the place by the noise already coming from it, and were surprised to see a thriving, almost self-sufficient hamlet that had newly sprung into being around the mud-brick walls of the hospital. It was clearly a market day, and a common meeting place directly in front of the main gates of the hospital was jammed with hastily erected stalls and donkey-drawn carts from which hawkers were selling a bewildering array of foodstuffs and general goods.

Arlo saw one of the two mounted guards in front of the main gates take note of their approach and sit straighter in his saddle, drawing his companion’s attention to them with a single word, barked from the side of his mouth, and he turned in his own saddle, calling Hugh’s attention to the guards.

“King’s men, over there on guard. You can see their shoulder patches even from here. They’ve taken note of us. I saw the one on the left alert his mate when he saw us come into the square. They’re obviously guarding something.”

“Aye, they’re guarding the hospital and its knights. The Hospital knights fulfill a valuable function—far too valuable for Baldwin and the Church to jeopardize—and so they are deemed worthy of royal protection, and rightfully so. Let’s approach them and identify ourselves. It might make things easier if they are kindly disposed to us later.”

That thought of royal protection preoccupied de Payens as he made his way over the last few hundred paces to where the guards sat watching his approach. The name itself, Knights of the Hospital, suggested that the new order—it had been officially founded and named only a few years earlier—should be responsible for its own defense, its members capable, as knights, of fighting on their own behalf. Hugh knew, however, that the suggestion was purely that—a suggestion, exaggerated and inaccurate. The Knights of the Hospital existed solely to minister to Christian pilgrims who fell sick on pilgrimage, on their way to or from the birthplace of Jesus Christ. They were monks, following the ancient monastic Rule of Saint Benedict, and their order had operated a hospice in Jerusalem since AD 600, when Pope Gregory the Great had instructed their abbot, Probus, to build and operate a hospice for Christian pilgrims. The Benedictine Order had done so ever since, with only one interruption, when a zealous anti-Christian caliph destroyed the hospice in 1005. Twenty years thereafter, with the caliph safely dead, it was rebuilt, and the brothers resumed their Jerusalem operations, running the hospice efficiently and without fuss ever since. They had been given the grand-sounding title of Knights of the Hospital in 1113—purely to enable them to raise funds more easily for the pursuit of their work—but they were resolute in their pacific and religious dedication, possessing not a single offensive weapon among them.

Hugh remembered spending an almost sleepless night close to a small group of the Hospitallers some six months earlier, at a caravanserai six nights’ journey from Jerusalem. The entire inn was overrun by travelers, and he, along with many others, had been forced to bed down in the open, huddling close to one of a half score of large watch fires that kept the chill of the desert night at bay. For some reason that night, perhaps because they were away from the discipline of their normal monastic surroundings, the Hospital knights had been in no hurry to fall asleep after their evening devotions, and some of them had lain awake far into the night, talking of the condition of the roads in the kingdom and the circumstances facing the Christian pilgrims.

Everyone had known since the early days of the Christian conquest that the situation on the roads of the Holy Land was a disgrace crying out for attention, but it was one of those topics that no one ever brought up for discussion, simply because no one could really think of anything that might reasonably be done to ease the problem, let alone solve it. It was the classic situation of sheep attracting wolves, in this case naïve, starry-eyed and weaponless Christian pilgrims attracting ever-increasing hordes of nomadic bandits lured by the prospect of easy pickings and no resistance. The situation had long since passed the point of being embarrassing. It had become a scandal that no self-respecting knight or warrior could countenance in good faith. And yet still, year after year, nothing was done about it.

King Baldwin of Jerusalem declared it impossible for him to divert any of his troops away from their primary duties. The war against the Turks might be over, he maintained, but the Kingdom of Jerusalem was still a new and fragile presence in the Holy Land, surrounded by hungry and angry enemies against whom he must be eternally vigilant. The departure of so many of the triumphant Frankish conquerors for home at the end of the first great conflict had left Baldwin in command of only a very small army with which to garrison and police his kingdom, and his resources were chronically stretched to their utmost limits.

That, unfortunately—and this had been the theme of the conversation that had held Hugh so enthralled—had given rise to an astonishingly widespread perception among the populace that the newly titled Knights of the Hospital should take it upon themselves to look after not merely the health and welfare of the pilgrims but their physical safety and wellbeing, too, by taking arms against the bandit marauders who infested the hills along the major roads. But of course, the knights were Benedictine monks, bound to pacifism by tradition, the dictates of the Church, and their holy vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Their knighthood was merely an honorary entitlement; they could not fight as true knights because they were both monastics and ecclesiastics.

The Knights of the Hospital were being dragged into the political considerations of the kingdom nevertheless, and that fact, and the reasons surrounding it, was the major bone of contention in the debate that night. One of the monks was far angrier than his fellows, incensed by the latest information he had received that very day. The King, it appeared, was talking seriously about attracting settlers to his new kingdom, promising them land and water rights if only they would come. New settlers: that was something unheard of until now in Outremer. There were pilgrims aplenty, passing through the land at all times and in all weathers, but they were all transient by definition, on their way to somewhere else. Settlers, on the other hand, would give up everything they owned in other parts of the world in order to travel to Jerusalem and take up residence there, farm the land and set down roots. They were to be cherished and encouraged by every means available.

The monk’s anger had nothing to do with the settlers themselves. He was completely in support of that initiative. What had infuriated him was the news that the King remained unwilling to commit any of his troops to cleaning up the travel routes and making the roads safe for the very settlers he hoped to attract. How, the monk demanded, could any sane person expect farmers, simple, peaceful, hardworking men with wives and children, to assume the risk of bringing those families into a place where their lives would be in constant, daily jeopardy?

There were those among the monk’s own group who sought reasons to justify the King’s position, and back and forth the argument went, with a few of the knights muttering that they might one day be tempted to take up the sword, if things grew bad enough. But the consensus was that little was likely to be done about the bandits until the eventual, and some thought inevitable, emergence of a new law-enforcement group, probably mercenary in structure, that would be dedicated solely to making the roads of Jerusalem safe for travelers.

Hugh had fallen off to sleep that night with a half smile on his lips, occasioned by the naïve optimism of the Hospital knights in their hope for a corps of high-principled mercenaries. He had been in the Holy Land long enough by then to find the mere notion of an altruistic motivation, on the part of anyone at all in this harsh land, to be laughable, and nothing he had heard that night had made him think otherwise.

He had admired the brethren of the Hospital unequivocally ever since that night, however, and he believed wholeheartedly that they deserved any assistance that could be rendered them in their work, so he was glad to see that the guards awaiting him that morning as he approached the hospital were alert and conscientious. He introduced himself and stated his business, and the senior guard directed him inside with instructions on where to go and whom to ask for.

In a surprisingly short time, Hugh and Arlo were standing over a cot containing a man who seemed at first glance far too small  to be the Godfrey St. Omer they both remembered. It was he, nevertheless, and both men immediately found themselves struggling to conceal the shock of seeing him in such condition. He was emaciated, shriveled and wasted from lack of proper food, but there was no mistaking his gladness at the sight of them, for he smiled and stirred weakly, his lips drawing back from his teeth in a skeletal grin.

“Goff, old friend.” De Payens leaned over the bed and squeezed St. Omer’s hand gently. “By God, it’s wonderful to see you.” He watched as St. Omer nodded his head, and then he waved to indicate Arlo. “You probably wouldn’t recognize this old fraud, after so long a time, but it’s Arlo ... fatter and balder and older, like all the rest of us.” St. Omer smiled again and raised a frail and languid hand to wave, but Hugh interrupted him before he could begin to say anything. “Don’t try to speak. We’re here now, so your troubles are all over. We came as soon as we received your message, and now we’ll make arrangements to take you back to Jerusalem with us. You’ll be much better off there, you’ll see. It’s changed a great deal since last you saw it.” He realized that he was babbling, and so he bade his old friend wait a little while longer and set out, followed by Arlo, to find the man in charge of the Jericho hospital.

As it turned out, their timing could not have been better. The monks had been working for the previous seven days to assemble a caravan, including a large party of returning knights, to travel to Jerusalem, carrying the sickest of their charges to where they could obtain better care in the larger Jerusalem facility, and preparations were being completed that day. The caravan would depart at sunrise the following day, but the brethren had only five horse-drawn wagons capable of making the journey and every inch of space within them had long since been allocated to people far sicker than Godfrey. Undismayed, de Payens and Arlo spent the better part of the day searching for another wagon and eventually found a two-wheeled cart drawn by a single horse, the only vehicle left available in Jericho. Its bed was roomy enough to hold two people lying side by side on deep-piled straw, and it could be protected from the sun by a cloth awning, stretched between hoops that slotted into the sides of the vehicle. Its owner refused to sell the cart, but since Hugh did not need it for longer than the single journey, he arranged to hire it, with its owner-driver, for the length of time required to drive it to Jerusalem, and the driver, knowing that Sir Hugh himself would be riding as escort to his friend, agreed to the knight’s terms without a deal of argument.

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