"I think these robes are infested with fleas, M'Lord. As are these poor bag of bones horses we traded for."
"I agree, Squire. But wear them, and ride them, we must. We cannot be seen as anything other than itinerant traders until we get to Antioch. Once there we can resume our garb and travel undisguised."
"But they itch me so, M'Lord. I'll be raw as bull meat by then."
It was dangerous territory they had to cross. Antioch was at least a week away, and only that close if they could find a boat in Tripoli to take them up the coast. Tripoli was in friendly hands, but it was on the sea and the land around it controlled by Saladin's army. And worse. In lawless lands, thieves and scoundrels abound, and bands of robbers roamed almost at will, although when caught they were treated as harshly by Saladin's army as they would be by Christian forces. But Saladin and King Guy were at each other's throats and they had little time for maintaining order beyond the discipline of their armies. The Holy Lands of Christian, Jew, and Moslem, once the province of pilgrimage and prayer, were becoming ever more dangerous with each passing day.
"How much further is it, M'Lord, to this 'Tripoli'?"
"Four days, I reckon. Perhaps five. And then Antioch would be another four days if overland we must travel. Otherwise, if we can find a boat headed there, we can reduce the time from Tripoli to a mere two days."
Squire looked back, over his shoulder. A long look back. He wasn't sure whether the heat and shimmer were playing tricks on his eyes or not. The land seemed to dance and apparitions would seem to come and go with each wave in the shimmer.
"I know, Squire. We've been followed almost since we set out."
"Oh, I know M'Lord. But it is not that which I feel. We are being watched - and I fear that narrow place between those hills I see ahead."
"I share your concern, Squire. But there is no other choice. If we turn away from this path we will expose our suspicions and bring whoever is out there down on us and they will be forewarned of our concerns. They will attack and we will have lost the element of surprise."
"They know not who we are. They think us traders. It is important we let them think that until we are forced to show ourselves. They will come at us thinking we are weak, they will try to frighten us, they will be sloppy and careless. We, however, will be ready. They will not."
"Aye, M'Lord. I see. 'Tis unfortunate we are not greater in number."
"We are what we are, Squire. Let us hope when the moment arrives, we are enough. We must talk of innocuous things now. We are close to the narrowing of the way and our voices will carry. We must not give away our concerns."
And in a louder voice, perhaps to be heard by a hidden audience ... "Let us stop here and tighten the cinches on the pack animals. The way ahead looks as though it may be rough."
And in a lower voice, as they descended from their mounts ... "Arm yourself, Squire. Take the short sword from under the blanket on the last horse. Hide it under your robes."
"Aye, M'Lord. But what of you?"
"I will use the two long swords. Perhaps cold steel will give them pause."
Gwalchmei stood between horses and took off his outer robe. He reached into the packs and pulled out his sword and belt and buckled the belt around his waist. He twisted the sword around so it was high on his hip and it hung straight down. He withdrew his second sword and draped the belt over his shoulder so the sword hung down behind his back, the hilt right behind his neck. He put on his outer robe and seemed no different, from a distance. He hoped.
Squire went to the last horse and pulled the short sword and scabbard out from under the blanket and then moved forward, up between the horses, and girded his waist with the belt on which hung the sheathed sword.
"M'Lord ... I don't see the follower," he said, as he mounted his beast.
"Good. For the moment he's one less thing to worry about. Now let's get back on our way."