One Knight's Story - part 4 (4)

From last time ...

"May Allah guide the flight of your arrows."

Gwalchmei lit an arrow, notched it, and drew it back to his cheek.

"In sha allah."

And now ...

The arrow flew in a high arc toward the black sail of the approaching boat, and went over the sail. Gwalchmei held another arrow out for Habeeb to light, notched it, pulled it back to his cheek and let it fly. This one stuck in the sail, but high up.

"It's in the sail, Gwalchmei!! You have done it!!"

"Nay, Habeeb. It burns too high in the sail. It will not do the damage we hope. We must put an arrow into the bottom. If luck be with us, if we set a seam afire, then perhaps we can split her sail and leave her far behind as we affect our escape. Another arrow, Habeeb. And quick."

Gwalchmei notched the arrow and pulled it back to his cheek. Suddenly, the approaching ship seemed to stop in the water. It shuddered and shook and billows of grayish white smoke began to pour up from her stern and just as suddenly a series of low, heavy thumps came to Gwalchmei's ears. The sides of the ship seemed to expand and then blow apart and planking and men and sail and ropes and everything became a confused burning tumble in the sea.

"Habeeb. Tell the fisherman we must help!! Come about and head for the wreck. We must see if anyone has survived."

Habeeb spoke to the fisherman.

"He will not turn about, Gwalchmei. He says evil spirits destroyed that ship and he will not go near the place."

"It was not evil spirits, Habeeb. Alfred!! Is anyone alive in the water?"

"None that I can see, M'Lord."

"Then let the fisherman sail on, Habeeb. We must get to Antioch, now more than ever. It was not evil spirits that destroyed that ship. It is what the Men of the East call 'huo yao'. Fire drug. The men of Mecca call it barun or nabat. It is a black powder that burns, and if contained, it will burst its container with great force, so as to destroy it and anything within a distance. There must have been a great supply of it on that ship. My heart tells me it was intended for Saladin. We must tell the Knights at Antioch what we have seen here. They must warn King Guy. If the Arabs have perfected huo yao, no fortress of his is safe."

"But how do you know, Gwalchmei? How do you know it was this 'huo yao'?"

"Do you notice the smell of the smoke that now reaches your nose, Habeeb? It is not a smell one forgets. I first encountered that acrid stink in Constantinople, when I was but a boy. The Men of the East make toys and entertainments with that powder. Rockets, they are called. Things that shoot into the sky and burst with a loud report. But they have always been small. These things the Arabs had on their boat must have been large. They must have found a way to make large quantities of the powder safely."

"But surely rockets that shoot up into the sky are no danger to fortifications."

"The Men of the East spoke of a day to come when great pots of powder would be laid in tunnels under the walls of an enemy fortress and they would able to lay the fortress open in a great explosion. That is what I fear the Arabs have done. They have made great pots of huo yao, and now they are capable of doing great harm to the fortresses of Jerusalem."

"Well, there's one shipload that will not get to Saladin. Now, if you'll excuse me, Man of the West, that storm is almost upon us and I must pray while my stomach will allow it.


Nan Sheppard said...

Excitinger and excitinger!

Joyce-Anne said...

I can't wait for more.

Jientje said...

I am now caught up with the story again. Loved it!

Suburban Farm said...

Love it, can't wait for the next installment!