Update: This post has been edited to include the previous parts of Part 3 - so that is can be properly linked in the sidebar. Edit done on 4/13/09 by Lou.
Chap2 - Part 3 - now complete
The light from the campfire drove back the night as it played against the sheltering wall. The shadows of the men loomed large as they sat next to each other lost in earnest conversation.
"But what of your wife, Habeeb? Does she await your return? Does she not object to this journey you have undertaken?"
"The woman grieves, Gwalchmei. She has returned to her village and her people, lost in grief. But not, perhaps, for the reason you think."
"Why then, does you wife grieve, Habeeb?"
"Death has touched our family, my friend. During the time you stayed in the castle of the Crusaders, two of our sons were killed in the service of Saladin. Her grief is profound and there seems nothing I can do to soothe her."
"Should you not be with her? Does she not need you, now, in this time?"
"No, Gwalchmei. She wails in her sleep and calls for her ancient Mother. She rises and speaks of nothing but the evil crones that are her sisters, although to her they seem the soul of succor. So I sent her to them and my brother, Hussein, takes my place at the inn."
"Would you like some kahve, M'Lord? And you, Habeeb? There seems quite a chill in the air tonight, even though the day was very warm. Perhaps some kahve would serve to stave off the cold of the night."
"Yes, Squire, I would enjoy some kahve, I think."
"As would I, Squire. You must show me the art of preparation that Gwalchmei has taught to you."
While Squire and Habeeb went about the business of brewing a pot of kahve, in the manner of the Turks, Gwalchmei stood and walked away from the fire, letting his eyes adjust to the weak light of the crescent moon, which softened the contours of the rolling hills through which they were traveling. A soft grey mantle lay over everything, stealing away what little color there was to the landscape.
He turned and walked quickly back to the fire.
"Attend! Attend! There are villains about, I fear."
Habeeb pulled his scimitar from beneath his robes. It rang as he brandished it - as if keen for a fight.
"What is it, Gwalchmei? Have you seen something?"
"Yes, Habeeb. Lest my eyes deceive me, there are five, maybe six, dark shapes which approach from the slope of the second hill yonder. I'm afraid your lesson in the preparation of kahve will have to wait. We must quench the fire. Hurry. We need time for our eyes to adjust to the darkness."
Squire reached down for a water skin.
"Use dirt, Squire. There is no fresh water for many miles. We will need what water we have."
"Thank you, Habeeb. I would have drowned the fire and dried us!"
They had sheltered behind an ancient and broken wall, to keep the westing wind out of their camp. Now this wall was a problem, for it limited their view in the direction of the intruders' approach. Gwalchmei only saw their approach because he had wandered to the low, broken corner which marked the end of their shelter. Looking out from this corner, he could see the path they would be taking on the morrow.
"Where away, Gwalchmei?"
"I saw them as they came down the face of that second hill, yonder, on the North side of the path. I do not like this position, Habeeb. We cannot go out to meet our attackers. This wall defends them as well as it defends us."
"But there are three of us, Gwalchmei. And I have seen you fight. We could best a dozen of them, if that were their number."
"It's true I saw but a few - but we do not know if what I saw was the whole of their company. I would rather not make this a game of chance."
"What would you do, then?"
"Squire!! Stay here, in this corner, where you are visible - as though you were standing guard. Habeeb, you wait at the south end of this wall. I will hide myself amid those shrubs that lie hard against the first hillside. When they come, they will come at you, Squire. Habeeb will come at them from one side, I will come down on them from the other. Squire. My arms."
"They are here, M'Lord."
He held out the two long swords, one in each hand, hilt first.
"No, Squire. You will need a long sword more than I. Give me the Falcala and one of the long swords. Attend. Don't let them get too close. When you see them, shout a challenge and go over the wall. That should draw them to you. Keep the wall at your back. Habeeb and I should be on them before they have any chance to do damage."
"From your mouth, M'Lord, to God's ear."
"Methinks our young thieves have returned. Use deadly force only to save your own lives. They will be poorly armed and will have to get in close to do any harm - so hold them at bay to the extent you can. I will try to find their leader and disarm him. Now - to your stations."
Gwalchmei found himself muttering under his breath.
"My eyes must be playing the trickster. I see nothing, and yet I think I see movement."
Gwalchmei sat amid the low shrubs, slighty up the side of the first hill, across the path from the corner of the wall, north and west from where Squire stood watch. He had a clear view of the open spaces to the west of the wall, and so far, there seemed to be nothing to see.
He raised his eyes to the horizon. A trick his father had taught him. "Avert your eyes from what it is you wish to see when peering into the night, my son. Look above or to the side." And he saw what he needed to see.
He jumped up and started down the hill at a run, shouting out a warning as he ran.
"Alarm! Alarm! They are upon us! Squire!! Over the wall, now!! Habeeb, come to my voice! These are not children!!!!"
As he came down the hill, half a dozen ghostly shapes seemed to rise from the ground, close upon the wall. Squire jumped over the low corner of the wall just as the closest of the villains ran up and raised his scimitar over his head. Squire's thrust caught him in the middle of his chest and stopped him mid stride. Just then, Gwalchmei and Habeeb fell upon the remaining intruders from either side, shouting and cursing and causing much confusion among the intruders. A few of them made to fight, but their attempts were half-hearted. They were disorganized and disheartened by the sudden turn of events. They had lost the element of surprise and now they found themselves under vigorous attack.
In Egyptian, Gwalchmei shouted out, "Surrender! Or die where you stand!!"
One by one, the remaining intruders laid down their daggers and scimitars - each stood with arms spread wide and hands open.
"I am Habeeb al Arsouf, and I am a Captain of Saladin. Who are you that you dare come upon us in the night like thieving dogs?" Silence "Well???? Speak up!!"
"We meant you no harm. We heard there were traders on the road. We thought to sample their wares."
"And who told you of traders on the road? How much did he ask of you, for this information?"
"A child. A child told us. He asked only that we bring him the two long swords."
"I am Sir Gwalchmei, a Knight of Wales. The two long swords your young villain requires belong to me. Which of you is bold enough to take them?"
The tallest and the heaviest of the intruders stepped forward and stripped off his tunic so that he stood there, barechested.
Gwalchmei handed his swords to Squire, and then did the same. The two men faced each other, barely a yard apart.
The intruder swung, Gwalchmei ducked under the blow. The intruder punched out at him, and Gwalchmei stepped aside, letting the blow sail past his ear. His arm came up, his hand grabbed the intruder's arm at the elbow and pulled him forward, off balance. Gwalchmei stepped in lightning quick, and struck a blow under the intruder's ear. Gwalchmei stepped out as the intruder slowly fell forward on his face, and lay still on the ground.
"Is there another among you, bold enough to take my swords?"
None spoke up.
"What shall we do with these men, Habeeb?"
"I don't know, Gwalchmei. They would steal from us, perhaps we should cut off their hands."
"No, Habeeb, not their hands. They may need their hands to do honest work. Perhaps something else?"
"Well, perhaps an ear. We could cut off an ear and all who would see them would know them as thieves. And so would we, should we see them, again."
As this conversation went on, the intruders huddled closer and closer together.
"All of you - remove your outer clothing. NOW!! And wake him up. Tell him to get undressed."
All of them did as they were told. The one who tried to fight with Gwalchmei was the last to throw his clothing in the pile.
"Now, you leave. Run. Run for your lives. And take this dead one with you - and know that you caused his death. Now go!"
When at last they faded from sight, Gwalchmei turned and retrieved his swords from Squire.
"Squire. Please? Build us a warm fire again? I fear we shall not sleep this night."
"Shall I make some kahve, M'Lord?"
"Aye, Squire. Some kahve."
"M'Lord? Where did those villains come from? I never saw them until you shouted. By then, they were so close..."
"Wait. I will show you."
Gwalchmei jumped over the wall and disappeared around the corner. He soon returned with a cloth draped over his arm.
"This is an old trick of those who fight at night in the sands of the desert. It is also how I knew them to be men of Egypt. They crawl upon the ground, covering themselves with a light cloth. They can then approach their enemy unseen. Is that not so, Habeeb?"
"Yes, Gwalchmei. It is so. But how did you see them?"
"A trick of vision my father taught me. Most useful for espying an enemy at night."
"I am most grateful to your ancient Father, that he taught you such a thing. If not for you, Squire might easily have been injured, or worse. We might all be much worse off than we are now."
"Yes, Habeeb. But pity the young scoundrel that sent those men after us. I hope his father taught him something that will save him."