Thus we begin again - the story of Gwalchmei and his journey home to Wales, accompanied by Alfred, his loyal man, and Habeeb, his loyal friend. Links to the earlier chapters of this story are located well down the right hand side of this page.
Chapter 3 - part 1
"Keep these with you, Alfred. Guard them with your life." With that, Gwalchmei handed Alfred a goatskin packet sewn shut with thin leather strips. Inside was another, slightly smaller packet, sewn shut as well and covered with an animal fat lotion, to make it waterproof. "These are the letters of credit from the Templars, to be redeemed when we arrive in France."
"Aye, M'Lord. With my life." He bowed his head.
Gwalchmei stepped out of the small quayside warehouse the fisherman had let them use when they came to the harbor in Antioch, the day before. He looked around him for a moment or two, then stepped back in.
"I do not like this place. It stinks. But for the fisherman, I would say there is no one here we can trust. And yet, we are a week away from the day the pilgrims leave. We must find a place of greater safety. Our goods, and our lives, are in peril here."
Habeeb looked over the piles of gear.
"I will find us horses, Gwalchmei. Seven, I would think. Three for us and four to carry our goods. When I return, we can pack and move. I have a cousin who lives just outside the gates of the city. We may have to sleep rough, but we will sleep safe."
Gwalchmei reached into his tunic, took out a small leather pouch, and handed it to Habeeb.
"Use this to buy the horses. Make sure they are sound, Habeeb. It is going to be a long journey and though we travel with others, we are responsible for ourselves. If we fall behind, we will be left. If we have not enough food, we will starve if we cannot beg. Make sure they are sound and can carry what we will need."
"I will, Gwalchmei. I will find you the horses the likes of which you have never seen."
With that, Habeeb ducked out the door and disappeared into the noise and heat along the quay.
Gwalchmei turned to Alfred.
"Well Alfred, perhaps, while we wait, we should repack for horses. We can check everything over and make sure all is dry and has not been attacked by seawater ... or vermin."
"Yes, M'Lord. A good idea. But while I do that, why do you not exercise with your swords. You have not done so for several days, a week now, I think, and soon you will not be able to lift your sword."
"Not here, Alfred. Too many eyes, here. We dress as traders for a reason, my friend. We are not seen as dangerous and, therefore, we do not draw danger to us."
"Forgive me, M'Lord. I did not think."
He laid his hand on Alfred's shoulder.
"There is nothing to forgive, Alfred. When we are clear of this place, maybe then. I, too, feel the need to do my exercises. I miss the feel of my swords in my hands."
With that, they began to unpack their piles of goods and repack them in a fashion suitable for carriage by horse. After an hour, they stopped to consider their work.
"I think we're done, M'Lord. At least until Habeeb returns with horses."
A dark shadow filled the doorway to the warehouse, and a loud and boisterous laugh filled the room.
"Habeeb is here. And with horses. Such horses as you have never seen. Come. Look!!"
Gwalchmei and Alfred stepped out into the hot bright of the quayside and saw seven magnificent horses, each harnessed, with a stone attached to each lead. Among them was a tall white Arabian, easily the best of them.
Gwalchmei was amazed.
"Habeeb. Where? How came you by these horses? They are the best horses I have seen since I was a child and I traded with the men of Mecca. They are magnificent."
"The Arabian is yours Gwalchmei." He handed Gwalchmei the purse Gwalchmei had given him to make the purchase of the horses.
"Habeeb. This purse seems no lighter, Habeeb."
He looked at Habeeb, puzzled. Habeeb threw his head back and laughed his deep, hearty laugh.
"I have many cousins, Gwalchmei. Many, many, cousins."
Habeeb turned and raised his hand, and a dozen young men, boys, really, appeared as if from nowhere and gathered around Habeeb, who then pointed into the warehouse.
"Come. Let us go to the house of my cousin who lives outside the walls of the city. There will be a feast. It seems my cousins thought me dead, and they are overjoyed to see that I am not. I, too, am overjoyed I am not."
"We have to pack the horses." Alfred was not ready to leave the warehouse alone and unguarded.
"My young cousins will pack the horses and bring them out when they are done. And do not worry. They will be watched over and guarded until they get to the house of my cousin and deliver them to us. So Come!! We Ride!!"
Habeeb leapt on the back of the nearest horse, leaned back and grabbed the rein of the tall white Arabian and handed it to Gwalchmei, and held the head of the horse next to him as Alfred mounted.
They turned and rode away from the quay, toward the house of Mohammed al-Azziri, cousin of Habeeb, and spy of Saladin's.