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Title: The Lion of Tiberias
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0608091.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
Date most recently updated: November 2006

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The Lion of Tiberias
Robert E. Howard



Chapter 1



The battle in the meadowlands of the Euphrates was over, but not
the slaughter. On that bloody field where the Caliph of Bagdad and his
Turkish allies had broken the onrushing power of Doubeys ibn Sadaka of
Hilla and the desert, the steel-clad bodies lay strewn like the drift
of a storm. The great canal men called the Nile, which connected the
Euphrates with the distant Tigris, was choked with the bodies of the
tribesmen, and survivors were panting in flight toward the white walls
of Hilla which shimmered in the distance above the placid waters of
the nearer river. Behind them the mailed hawks, the Seljuks, rode down
the fleeing, cutting the fugitives from their saddles. The glittering
dream of the Arab emir had ended in a storm of blood and steel, and
his spurs struck blood as he rode for the distant river.

Yet at one spot in the littered field the fight still swirled and
eddied, where the emir's favorite son, Achmet, a slender lad of
seventeen or eighteen, stood at bay with one companion. The mailed
riders swooped in, struck and reined back, yelling in baffled rage
before the lashing of the great sword in this man's hands. His was a
figure alien and incongruous, his red mane contrasting with the black
locks about him no less than his dusty gray mail contrasted with the
plumed burnished headpieces and silvered hauberks of the slayers. He
was tall and powerful, with a wolfish hardness of limbs and frame that
his mail could not conceal. His dark, scarred face was moody, his blue
eyes cold and hard as the blue steel whereof Rhineland gnomes forge
swords for heroes in northern forests.

Little of softness had there been in John Norwald's life. Son of a
house ruined by the Norman conquest, this descendant of feudal thanes
had only memories of wattle-thatched huts and the hard life of a man-
at-arms, serving for poor hire barons he hated. Born in north England,
the ancient Danelagh, long settled by blue-eyed vikings, his blood was
neither Saxon nor Norman, but Danish, and the grim unbreakable
strength of the blue North was his. From each stroke of life that
felled him, he rose fiercer and more unrelenting. He had not found
existence easier in his long drift East which led him into the service
of Sir William de Montserrat, seneschal of a castle on the frontier
beyond Jordan.

In all his thirty years, John Norwald remembered but one kindly
act, one deed of mercy; wherefore he now faced a whole host, desperate
fury nerving his iron arms.

It had been Achmet's first raid, whereby his riders had trapped de
Montserrat and a handful of retainers. The boy had not shrunk from the
swordplay, but the savagery that butchers fallen foes was not his.
Writhing in the bloody dust, stunned and half-dead, John Norwald had
dimly seen the lifted scimitar thrust aside by a slender arm, and the
face of the youth bending above him, the dark eyes filled with tears
of pity.

Too gentle for the age and his manner of life, Achmet had made his
astounded warriors take up the wounded Frank and bring him with them.
And in the weeks that passed while Norwald's wounds healed, he lay in
Achmet's tent by an oasis of the Asad tribes, tended by the lad's own
_hakim_. When he could ride again, Achmet had brought him to Hilla.
Doubeys ibn Sadaka always tried to humor his son's whims, and now,
though muttering pious horror in his beard, he granted Norwald his
life. Nor did he regret it, for in the grim Englishman he found a
fighting-man worth any three of his own hawks.

John Norwald felt no tugging of loyalty toward de Montserrat, who
had fled out of the ambush leaving him in the hands of the Moslems,
nor toward the race at whose hands he had had only hard knocks all his
life. Among the Arabs he found an environment congenial to his moody,
ferocious nature, and he plunged into the turmoil of desert feuds,
forays and border wars as if he had been born under a Bedouin black
felt tent instead of a Yorkshire thatch. Now, with the failure of ibn
Sadaka's thrust at Bagdad and sovereignty, the Englishman found
himself once more hemmed in by chanting foes, mad with the tang of
blood. About him and his youthful comrade swirled the wild riders of
Mosul; the mailed hawks of Wasit and Bassorah, whose lord, Zenghi Imad
ed din, had that day out-maneuvered ibn Sadaka and slashed his shining
host to pieces.

On foot among the bodies of their warriors, their backs to a wall
of dead horses and men, Achmet and John Norwald beat back the
onslaught. A heron-feathered emir reined in his Turkoman steed,
yelling his war-cry, his house-troops swirling in behind him.

"Back, boy; leave him to me!" grunted the Englishman, thrusting
Achmet behind him. The slashing scimitar struck blue sparks from his
basinet and his great sword dashed the Seljuk dead from his saddle.
Bestriding the chieftain's body, the giant Frank lashed up at the
shrieking swordsmen who spurred in, leaning from their saddles to
swing their blades. The curved sabers shivered on his shield and
armor, and his long sword crashed through bucklers, breastplates, and
helmets, cleaving flesh and splintering bones, littering corpses at
his iron-sheathed feet. Panting and howling the survivors reined back.

Then a roaring voice made them glance quickly about, and they fell
back as a tall, strongly built horseman rode through them and drew
rein before the grim Frank and his slender companion. John Norwald for
the first time stood face to face with Zenghi esh Shami, Imad ed din,
governor of Wasit and warden of Basorah, whom men called the Lion of
Tiberias, because of his exploits at the siege of Tiberias.

The Englishman noted the breadth of the mighty steel-clad
shoulders, the grip of the powerful hands on rein and sword-hilt; the
blazing magnetic blue eyes, setting off the ruthless lines of the dark
face. Under the thin black lines of the mustaches the wide lips
smiled, but it was the merciless grin of the hunting panther.

Zenghi spoke and there was at the back of his powerful voice a
hint of mockery or gargantuan mirth that rose above wrath and
slaughter.

"Who are these paladins that they stand among their prey like
tigers in their den, and none is found to go against them? Is it
Rustem whose heel is on the necks of my emirs--or only a renegade
Nazarene? And the other, by Allah, unless I am mad, it is the cub of
the desert wolf! Are you not Achmet ibn Doubeys?"

It was Achmet who answered; for Norwald maintained a grim silence,
watching the Turk through slit eyes, fingers locked on his bloody
hilt.

"It is so, Zenghi esh Shami," answered the youth proudly, "and
this is my brother at arms, John Norwald. Bid your wolves ride on, oh
prince. Many of them have fallen. More shall fall before their steel
tastes our hearts."

Zenghi shrugged his mighty shoulders, in the grip of the mocking
devil that lurks at the heart of all the sons of high Asia.

"Lay down your weapons, wolf-cub and Frank. I swear by the honor
of my clan, no sword shall touch you."

"I trust him not," growled John Norwald. "Let him come a pace
nearer and I'll take him to Hell with us."

"Nay," answered Achmet. "The prince keeps his word. Lay down your
sword, my brother. We have done all men might do. My father the emir
will ransom us."

He tossed down his scimitar with a boyish sigh of unashamed
relief, and Norwald grudgingly laid down his broadsword.

"I had rather sheathe it in his body," he growled.

Achmet turned to the conqueror and spread his hands.

"Oh, Zenghi--" he began, when the Turk made a quick gesture, and
the two prisoners found themselves seized and their hands bound behind
them with thongs that cut the flesh.

"There is no need of that, prince," protested Achmet. "We have
given ourselves into your hands. Bid your men loose us. We will not
seek to escape."

"Be silent, cub!" snapped Zenghi. The Turk's eyes still danced
with dangerous laughter, but his face was dark with passion. He reined
nearer. "No sword shall touch you, young dog," he said deliberately.
"Such was my word, and I keep my oaths. No blade shall come near you,
yet the vultures shall pluck your bones tonight. Your dog-sire escaped
me, but you shall not escape, and when men tell him of your end, he
will tear his locks in anguish."

Achmet, held in the grip of the powerful soldiers, looked up,
paling, but answered without a quaver of fear.

"Are you then a breaker of oaths, Turk?"

"I break no oath," answered the lord of Wasit. "A whip is not a
sword."

His hand came up, gripping a terrible Turkoman scourge, to the
seven rawhide thongs of which bits of lead were fastened. Leaning from
his saddle as he struck, he brought those metal-weighted thongs down
across the boy's face with terrible force. Blood spurted and one of
Achmet's eyes was half torn from its socket. Held helpless, the boy
could not evade the blows Zenghi rained upon him. But not a whimper
escaped him, though his features turned to a bloody, raw, ghastly and
eyeless ruin beneath the ripping strokes that shredded the flesh and
splintered the bones beneath. Only at last a low animal-like moaning
drooled from his mangled lips as he hung senseless and dying in the
hands of his captors.

Without a cry or a word John Norwald watched, while the heart in
his breast shriveled and froze and turned to ice that naught could
touch or thaw or break. Something died in his soul and in its place
rose an elemental spirit unquenchable as frozen fire and bitter as
hoarfrost.

The deed was done. The mangled broken horror that had been Prince
Achmet iby Doubeys was cast carelessly on a heap of dead, a touch of
life still pulsing through the tortured limbs. On the crimson mask of
his features fell the shadow of vulture wings in the sunset. Zenghi
threw aside the dripping scourge and turned to the silent Frank. But
when he met the burning eyes of his captive, the smile faded from the
prince's lips and the taunts died unspoken. In those cold, terrible
eyes the Turk read hate beyond common conception--a monstrous,
burning, almost tangible thing, drawn up from the lower pits of Hell,
not to be dimmed by time or suffering.

The Turk shivered as from a cold unseen wind. Then he regained his
composure. "I give you life, infidel," said Zenghi, "because of my
oath. You have seen something of my power. Remember it in the long
dreary years when you shall regret my mercy, and howl for death. And
know that as I serve you, I will serve all Christendom. I have come
into Outremer and left their castles desolate; I have ridden eastward
with the heads of their chiefs swinging at my saddle. I will come
again, not as a raider but as a conqueror. I will sweep their hosts
into the sea. Frankistan shall howl for her dead kings, and my horses
shall stamp in the citadels of the infidel; for on this field I set my
feet on the glittering stairs that lead to empire."

"This is my only word to you, Zenghi, dog of Tiberias," answered
the Frank in a voice he did not himself recognize. "In a year, or ten
years, or twenty years, I will come again to you, to pay this debt."

"Thus spake the trapped wolf to the hunter," answered Zenghi, and
turning to the memluks who held Norwald, he said, "Place him among the
unransomed captives. Take him to Bassorah and see that he is sold as a
galley-slave. He is strong and may live for four or five years."

The sun was setting in crimson, gloomy and sinister for the
fugitives who staggered toward the distant towers of Hilla that the
setting sun tinted in blood. But the land was as one flooded with the
scarlet glory of imperial pageantry to the Caliph who stood on a
hillock, lifting his voice to Allah who had once more vindicated the
dominance of his chosen viceroy, and saved the sacred City of Peace
from violation.

"Verily, verily, a young lion has risen in Islam, to be as a sword
and shield to the Faithful, to revive the power of Muhammad, and to
confound the infidels!"



Chapter 2



Prince Zenghi was the son of a slave, which was no great handicap
in that day, when the Seljuk emperors, like the Ottomans after them,
ruled through slave generals and satraps. His father, Ak Sunkur, had
held high posts under the sultan Melik Shah, and as a young boy Zenghi
had been taken under the special guidance of that war-hawk Kerbogha of
Mosul. The young eagle was not a Seljuk; his sires were Turks from
beyond the Oxus, of that people which men later called Tatars. Men of
this blood were rapidly becoming the dominant factor in western Asia,
as the empire of the Seljuks, who had enslaved and trained them in the
art of ruling, began to crumble. Emirs were stirring restlessly under
the relaxing yoke of the sultans. The Seljuks were reaping the yield
of the seeds of the feudal system they had sown, and among the jealous
sons of Melik Shah there was none strong enough to rebuild the
crumbling lines.

So far the fiefs, held by feudal vassals of the sultans, were at
least nominally loyal to the royal masters, but already there was
beginning the slow swirling upheaval that ultimately reared kingdoms
on the ruins of the old empire. The driving impetus of one man
advanced this movement more than anything else--the vital dynamic
power of Zenghi esh Shami--Zenghi the Syrian, so called because of his
exploits against the Crusaders in Syria. Popular legendry has passed
him by, to exalt Saladin who followed and overshadowed him; yet he was
the forerunner of the great Moslem heroes who were to shatter the
Crusading kingdoms, and but for him the shining deeds of Saladin might
never have come to pass.

In the dim and misty pageantry of phantoms that move shadow-like
through those crimson years, one figure stands out clear and bold-
etched--a figure on a rearing black stallion, the black silken cloak
flowing from his mailed shoulders, the dripping scimitar in his hand.
He is Zenghi, son of the pagan nomads, the first of a glittering line
of magnificent conquerors before whom the iron men of Christendom
reeled--Nur-ad-din, Saladin, Baibars, Kalawun, Bayazid--aye, and
Subotai, Genghis Khan, Hulagu, Tamerlane, and Suleiman the Great.

In 1124 the fall of Tyre to the Crusaders marked the high tide of
Frankish power in Asia. Thereafter the hammer-strokes of Islam fell on
a waning sovereignty. At the time of the battle of the Euphrates the
kingdom of Outremer extended from Edessa in the north to Ascalon in
the south, a distance of some five hundred miles. Yet it was in few
places more than fifty miles broad, from east to west, and walled
Moslem towns were within a day's ride of Christian keeps. Such a
condition could not exist forever. That it existed as long as it did
was owing partly to the indomitable valor of the cross-wearers, and
partly to the lack of a strong leader among the Moslems.

In Zenghi such a leader was found. When he broke ibn Sadaka he was
thirty-eight years of age, and had held his fief of Wasit but a year.
Thirty-six was the minimum age at which the sultans allowed a man to
hold a governorship, and most notables were much older when they were
so honored than was Zenghi. But the honor only whetted his ambition.

The same sun that shone mercilessly on John Norwald, stumbling
along in chains on the road that led to the galley's bench, gleamed on
Zenghi's gilded mail as he rode north to enter the service of the
sultan Muhammad at Hamadhan. His boast that his feet were set on the
stairs of fame was no idle one. All orthodox Islam vied in honoring
him.

To the Franks who had felt his talons in Syria, came faint tidings
of that battle beside the Nile canal, and they heard other word of his
growing power. There came tidings of a dispute between sultan and
Caliph, and of Zenghi turning against his former master, riding into
Bagdad with the banners of Muhammad. Honors rained like stars on his
turban, sang the Arab minstrels. Warden of Bagdad, governor of Irak,
prince of el Jezira, Atabeg of Mosul--on up the glittering stairs of
power rode Zenghi, while the Franks ignored the tidings from the East
with the perverse blindness of their race--until Hell burst along
their borders and the roar of the Lion shook their towers.

Outposts and castles went up in flames, and Christian throats felt
the knife edge, Christian necks the yoke of slavery. Outside the walls
of doomed Athalib, Baldwin, king of Jerusalem, saw his picked chivalry
swept broken and flying into the desert. Again at Barin the Lion drove
Baldwin and his Damascene allies headlong in flight, and when the
Emperor of Byzantium himself, John Comnene, moved against the
victorious Turk, he found himself chasing a desert wind that turned
unexpectedly and slaughtered his stragglers, and harried his lines
until life was a burden and a stone about his royal neck. John Comnene
decided that his Moslem neighbors were no more to be despised than his
barbaric Frankish allies, and before he sailed away from the Syrian
coast he held secret parleys with Zenghi that bore crimson fruit in
later years. His going left the Turk free to move against his eternal
enemies, the Franks. His objective was Edessa, northernmost stronghold
of the Christians, and one of the most powerful of their cities. But
like a crafty swordsman he blinded his foes by feints and gestures.

Outremer reeled before his blows. The land was filled with the
chanting of the riders, the twang of bows, and the whine of swords.
Zenghi's hawks swept through the land and their horses hoofs spattered
blood on the standards of kings. Walled castles toppled in flame,
sword-hacked corpses strewed the valleys, dark hands knotted in the
yellow tresses of screaming women, and the lords of the Franks cried
out in wrath and pain. Up the glittering stairs of empire rode Zenghi
on his black stallion, his scimitar dripping in his hand, stars
jeweling his turban.

And while he swept the land like a storm, and hurled down barons
to make drinking-cups of their skulls and stables of their palaces,
the galley-slaves, whispering to one another in their eternal darkness
where the oars clacked everlastingly and the lap of the waves was a
symphony of slow madness, spoke of a red-haired giant who never spoke,
and whom neither labor, nor starvation, nor the dripping lash, nor the
drag of the bitter years could break.

The years passed, glittering, star-strewn, gilt-spangled years to
the rider in the shining saddle, to the lord in the golden-domed
palace; black, silent, bitter years in the creaking, reeking, rat-
haunted darkness of the galleys.



Chapter 3



"He rides on the wind with the stars in his hair;

Like Death falls his shadow on castles and towns;

And the kings of the Caphars cry out in despair.

For the hoofs of his stallion have trampled their crowns."

Thus sang a wandering Arab minstrel in the tavern of a little
outpost village which stood on the ancient--and now little-traveled--
road from Antioch to Aleppo. The village was a cluster of mud huts
huddling about a castle-crowned hill. The population was mongrel--
Syrians, Arabs, mixed breeds with Frankish blood in their veins.

Tonight a representative group was gathered in the inn--native
laborers from the fields; a lean Arab herdsman or two; French men-at-
arms in worn leather and rusty mail, from the castle on the hill; a
pilgrim wandered off his route to the holy places of the south; the
ragged minstrel. Two figures held the attention of casual lookers-on.
They sat on opposite sides of a rudely carved table, eating meat and
drinking wine, and they were evidently strangers to each other, since
no word passed between them, though each glanced surreptitiously at
the other from time to time.

Both were tall, hard limbed and broad shouldered, but there the
resemblance ended. One was clean-shaven, with a hawk-like predatory
face from which keen blue eyes gleamed coldly. His burnished helmet
lay on the bench beside him with the kite-shaped shield, and his mail
coif was pushed back, revealing a mass of red-gold hair. His armor
gleamed with gilt-work and silver chasing, and the hilt of his
broadsword sparkled with jewels.

The man opposite him seemed drab by comparison, with his dusty
gray chain mail and worn sword-hilt untouched by any gleam of gem or
gold. His square-cut tawny mane was matched by a short beard which
masked the strong lines of jaw and chin.

The minstrel finished his song with an exultant clash of the
strings, and eyed his audience half in insolence, half in uneasiness.

"And thus, masters," he intoned, one eye on possible alms, the
other on the door. "Zenghi, prince of Wasit, brought his memluks up
the Tigris on boats to aid the sultan Muhammad who lay encamped about
the walls of Bagdad. Then, when the Caliph saw the banners of Zenghi,
he said, 'Lo, now is come up against me the young lion who overthrew
ibn Sadaka for me; open the gates, friends, and throw yourselves on
his mercy, for there is none found to stand before him.' And it was
done, and the sultan gave to Zenghi all the land of el Jezira.

"Gold and power flowed through his fingers. Mosul, his capital,
which he found a waste of ruins, he made to bloom as roses blossom by
an oasis. Kings trembled before him but the poor rejoiced, for he
shielded them from the sword. His servants looked on him as upon God.
Of him it is told that he gave a slave a husk to hold, and not for a
year did he ask for it. Then when he demanded it, lo, the man gave it
into his hands, wrapped in a napkin, and for his diligence Zenghi gave
him command of a castle. For though the Atabeg is a hard master, yet
he is just to True Believers."

The knight in the gleaming mail flung the minstrel a coin.

"Well sung, pagan!" he cried in a harsh voice that sounded the
Norman-French words strangely. "Know you the song of the sack of
Edessa?"

"Aye, my lord," smirked the minstrel, "and with the favor of your
lordships I will essay it."

"Your head shall roll on the floor first," spoke the other knight
suddenly in a voice deep and somber with menace. "It is enough that
you praise the dog Zenghi in our teeth. No man sings of his butcheries
at Edessa, beneath a Christian roof in my presence."

The minstrel blenched and gave back, for the cold gray eyes of the
Frank were grim. The knight in the ornate mail looked at the speaker
curiously, no resentment in his reckless dancing eyes.

"You speak as one to whom the subject is a sore one, friend," said
he.

The other fixed his somber stare on his questioner, but made no
reply save a slight shrug of his mighty mailed shoulders as he
continued his meal.

"Come," persisted the stranger, "I meant no offense. I am newly
come to these parts--I am Sir Roger d'Ibelin, vassal to the king of
Jerusalem. I have fought Zenghi in the south, when Baldwin and Anar of
Damascus made alliance against him, and I only wished to hear the
details of the taking of Edessa. By God, there were few Christians who
escaped to bear the tale."

"I crave pardon for my seeming discourtesy," returned the other.
"I am Miles du Courcey, in the service of the prince of Antioch. I was
in Edessa when it fell.

"Zenghi came up from Mosul and laid waste the Diyar Bekr, taking
town after town from the Seljuks. Count Joscelin de Courtenay was
dead, and the rule was in the hands of that sluggard, Joscelin II. In
the late fall of the year Zenghi laid siege to Amid, and the count
bestirred himself--but only to march away to Turbessel with all his
household.

"We were left at Edessa with the town in charge of fat Armenian
merchants who gripped their moneybags and trembled in fear of Zenghi,
unable to overcome their swinish avarice enough to pay the mongrel
mercenaries Joscelin had left to defend the city.

"Well, as anyone might know, Zenghi left Amid and marched against
us as soon as word reached him that the poor fool Joscelin had
departed. He reared his siege engines over against the walls, and day
and night hurled assaults against the gates and towers, which had
never fallen had we had the proper force to man them.

"But to give them their due, our wretched mercenaries did well.
There was no rest or ease for any of us; day and night the ballistas
creaked, stones and beams crashed against the towers, arrows blinded
the sky in their whistling clouds, and Zenghi's chanting devils
swarmed up the walls. We beat them back until our swords were broken,
our mail hung in bloody tatters, and our arms were dead with
weariness. For a month we kept Zenghi at bay, waiting for Count
Joscelin, but he never came.

"It was on the morning of December 23rd that the rams and engines
made a great breach in the outer wall, and the Moslems came through
like a river bursting through a dam. The defenders died like flies
along the broken ramparts, but human power could not stem that tide.
The memluks rode into the streets and the battle became a massacre.
The Turkish sword knew no mercy. Priests died at their altars, women
in their courtyards, children at their play. Bodies choked the
streets, the gutters ran crimson, and through it all rode Zenghi on
his black stallion like a phantom of Death."

"Yet you escaped?"

The cold gray eyes became more somber.

"I had a small band of men-at-arms. When I was dashed senseless
from my saddle by a Turkish mace, they took me up and rode for the
western gate. Most of them died in the winding streets, but the
survivors brought me to safety. When I recovered my senses the city
lay far behind me.

"But I rode back." The speaker seemed to have forgotten his
audience. His eyes were distant, withdrawn; his bearded chin rested on
his mailed fist; he seemed to be speaking to himself. "Aye, I had
ridden into the teeth of Hell itself. But I met a servant, fallen
death-stricken among the straggling fugitives, and ere he died he told
me that she whom I sought was dead--struck down by a memluk's
scimitar."

Shaking his iron-clad shoulders he roused himself as from a bitter
revelry. His eyes grew cold and hard again; the harsh timbre re-
entered his voice.

"Two years have seen a great change in Edessa I hear. Zenghi
rebuilt the walls and has made it one of his strongest holds. Our hold
on the land is crumbling and tearing away. With a little aid, Zenghi
will surge over Outremer and obliterate all vestiges of Christendom."

"That aid may come from the north," muttered a bearded man-at-
arms. "I was in the train of the barons who marched with John Comnene
when Zenghi outmaneuvered him. The emperor has no love for us."

"Bah! He is at least a Christian," laughed the man who called
himself d'Ibelin, running his restless fingers through his clustering
golden locks.

Du Courcey's cold eyes narrowed suddenly as they rested on a heavy
golden ring of curious design on the other's finger, but he said
nothing.

Heedless of the intensity of the Norman's stare, d'Ibelin rose and
tossed a coin on the table to pay his reckoning. With a careless word
of farewell to the idlers he rose and strode out of the inn with a
clanking of armor. The men inside heard him shouting impatiently for
his horse. And Sir Miles du Courcey rose, took up shield and helmet,
and followed.

The man known as d'Ibelin had covered perhaps a half-mile, and the
castle on the hill was but a faint bulk behind him, gemmed by a few
points of light, when a drum of hoofs made him wheel with a guttural
oath that was not French. In the dim starlight he made out the form of
his recent inn companion, and he laid hand on his jeweled hilt. Du
Courcey drew up beside him and spoke to the grimly silent figure.

"Antioch lies the other way, good sir. Perhaps you have taken the
wrong road by mischance. Three hours' ride in this direction will
bring you into Saracen territory."

"Friend," retorted the other, "I have not asked your advice
concerning my road. Whether I go east or west is scarcely your
affair."

"As vassal to the prince of Antioch it is my affair to inquire
into suspicious actions within his domain. When I see a man traveling
under false pretenses, with a Saracen ring on his finger, riding by
night toward the border, it seems suspicious enough for me to make
inquiries."

"I can explain my actions if I see fit," bruskly answered
d'Ibelin, "but these insulting accusations I will answer at the
sword's point. What mean you by false pretensions?"

"You are not Roger d'Ibelin. You are not even a Frenchman."

"No?" a sneer rasped in the other's voice as he slipped his sword
from its sheath.

"No. I have been to Constantinople, and seen the northern
mercenaries who serve the Greek emperor. I can not forget your hawk
face. You are John Comnene's spy--Wulfgar Edric's son, a captain in
the Varangian Guard."

A wild beast snarl burst from the masquerader's lips and his horse
screamed and leaped convulsively as he struck in the spurs, throwing
all his frame behind his sword arm as the beast plunged. But du
Courcey was too seasoned a fighter to be caught so easily. With a
wrench of his rein he brought his steed round, rearing. The
Varangian's frantic horse plunged past, and the whistling sword struck
fire from the Norman's lifted shield. With a furious yell the fierce
Norman wheeled again to the assault, and the horses reared together
while the swords of their riders hissed, circled in flashing arcs, and
fell with ringing clash on mail-links or shield.

The men fought in grim silence, save for the panting of straining
effort, but the clangor of their swords awoke the still night and
sparks flew as from a blacksmith's anvil. Then with a deafening crash
a broadsword shattered a helmet and splintered the skull within. There
followed a loud clash of armor as the loser fell heavily from his
saddle. A riderless horse galloped away, and the conqueror, shaking
the sweat from his eyes, dismounted and bent above the motionless
steel-clad figure.



Chapter 4



On the road that leads south from Edessa to Rakka, the Moslem host
lay encamped, the lines of gay-colored pavilions spread out in the
plains. It was a leisurely march, with wagons, luxurious equipment,
and whole households with women and slaves. After two years in Edessa
the Atabeg of Mosul was returning to his capital by the way of Rakka.
Fires glimmered in the gathering dusk where the first stars were
peeping; lutes twanged and voices were lifted in song and laughter
about the cooking pots.

Before Zenghi, playing at chess with his friend and chronicler,
the Arab Ousama of Sheyzar, came the eunuch Yaruktash, who salaamed
low and in his squeaky voice intoned, "Oh, Lion of Islam, an emir of
the infidels desires audience with thee--the captain of the Greeks who
is called Wulfgar Edric's son. The chief Il-Ghazi and his memluks came
upon him, riding alone, and would have slain him but he threw up his
arm and on his hand they saw the ring thou gavest the emperor as a
secret sign for his messengers."

Zenghi tugged his gray-shot black beard and grinned, well pleased.

"Let him be brought before me." The slave bowed and withdrew.

To Ousama, Zenghi said, "Allah, what dogs are these Christians,
who betray and cut one another's throats for the promise of gold or
land!"

"Is it well to trust such a man?" queried Ousama. "If he will
betray his kind, he will surely betray you if he may."

"May I eat pork if I trust him," retorted Zenghi, moving a
chessman with a jeweled finger. "As I move this pawn I will move the
dog-emperor of the Greeks. With his aid I will crack the kings of
Outremer like nutshells. I have promised him their seaports, and he
will keep his promises until he thinks his prizes are in his hands.
Ha! Not towns but the sword-edge I will give him. What we take
together shall be mine, nor will that suffice me. By Allah, not
Mesopotamia, nor Syria, nor all Asia Minor is enough! I will cross the
Hellespont! I will ride my stallion through the palaces on the Golden
Horn! Frankistan herself shall tremble before me!"

The impact of his voice was like that of a harsh-throated trumpet,
almost stunning the hearers with its dynamic intensity. His eyes
blazed, his fingers knotted like iron on the chessboard.

"You are old, Zenghi," warned the cautious Arab. "You have done
much. Is there no limit to your ambitions?"

"Aye!" laughed the Turk. "The horn of the moon and the points of
the stars! Old? Eleven years older than thyself, and younger in spirit
than thou wert ever. My thews are steel, my heart is fire, my wits
keener even than on the day I broke ibn Sadaka beside the Nile and set
my feet on the shining stairs of glory! Peace, here comes the Frank."

A small boy of about eight years of age, sitting cross-legged on a
cushion near the edge of the dais whereon lay Zenghi's divan, had been
staring up in rapt adoration. His fine brown eyes sparkled as Zenghi
spoke of his ambition, and his small frame quivered with excitement,
as if his soul had taken fire from the Turk's wild words. Now he
looked at the entrance of the pavilion with the others, as the memluks
entered with the visitor between them, his scabbard empty. They had
taken his weapons outside the royal tent.

The memluks fell back and ranged themselves on either side of the
dais, leaving the Frank in an open space before their master. Zenghi's
keen eyes swept over the tall form in its glittering gold-worked mail,
took in the clean-shaven face with its cold eyes, and rested on the
Koran-inscribed ring on the man's finger.

"My master, the emperor of Byzantium," said the Frank in Turki,
"sends thee greeting, oh Zenghi, Lion of Islam."

As he spoke he took in the details of the impressive figure, clad
in steel, silk and gold, before him; the strong dark face, the
powerful frame which, despite the years, betokened steel-spring
muscles and unquenchable vitality; above all the Atabeg's eyes,
gleaming with unperishable youth and innate fierceness.

"And what said thy master, oh Wulfgar?" asked the Turk.

"He sends thee this letter," answered the Frank, drawing forth a
packet and proffering it to Yaruktash, who in turn, and on his knees,
delivered it to Zenghi. The Atabeg perused the parchment, signed in
the Emperor's unmistakable hand and sealed with the royal Byzantine
seal. Zenghi never dealt with underlings, but always with the highest
power of friends or foes.

"The seals have been broken," said the Turk, fixing his piercing
eyes on the inscrutable countenance of the Frank. "Thou hast read?"

"Aye. I was pursued by men of the prince of Antioch, and fearing
lest I be seized and searched, I opened the missive and read it, so
that if I were forced to destroy it lest it fall into enemy hands, I
could repeat the message to thee by word of mouth."

"Let me hear, then, if thy memory be equal to thy discretion,"
commanded the Atabeg.

"As thou wilt. My master says to thee, 'Concerning that which hath
passed between us, I must have better proof of thy good faith.
Wherefore do thou send me by this messenger, who, though unknown to
thee, is a man to be trusted, full details of thy desires and good
proof of the aid thou hast promised us in the proposed movement
against Antioch. Before I put to sea I must know that thou art ready
to move by land, and there must be binding oaths between us.' And the
missive is signed with the emperor's own hand."

The Turk nodded; a mirthful devil danced in his blue eyes.

"They are his very words. Blessed is the monarch who boasts such a
vassal. Sit ye upon that heap of cushions; meat and drink shall be
brought to you."

Calling Yaruktash, Zenghi whispered in his ear. The eunuch
started, stared, and then salaamed and hastened from the pavilion.
Slaves brought food and the forbidden wine in golden vessels, and the
Frank broke his fast with unfeigned relish. Zenghi watched him
inscrutably and the glittering memluks stood like statues of burnished
steel.

"You came first to Edessa?" asked the Atabeg.

"Nay. When I left my ship at Antioch I set forth for Edessa, but I
had scarce crossed the border when a band of wandering Arabs,
recognizing your ring, told me you were on the march for Rakka, thence
to Mosul. So I turned aside and rode to cut your line of march, and my
way being made clear for me by virtue of the ring which all your
subjects know, I was at last met by the chief Il-Ghazi who escorted me
thither."

Zenghi nodded his leonine head slowly.

"Mosul calls me. I go back to my capital to gather my hawks, to
brace my lines. When I return I will sweep the Franks into the sea
with the aid of--thy master.

"But I forget the courtesy due a guest. This is the prince Ousama
of Sheyzar, and this child is the son of my friend Nejm-ed-din, who
saved my army and my life when I fled from Karaja the Cup-bearer--one
of the few foes who ever saw my back. His father dwells at Baalbekk,
which I gave him to rule, but I have taken Yusef with me to look on
Mosul. Verily, he is more to me than my own sons. I have named him
Salah-ed-din, and he shall be a thorn in the flesh of Christendom."

At this instant Yaruktash entered and whispered in Zenghi's ear,
and the Atabeg nodded.

As the eunuch withdrew, Zenghi turned to the Frank. The Turk's
manner had changed subtly. His lids drooped over his glittering eyes
and a faint hint of mockery curled his bearded lips.

"I would show you one whose countenance you know of old," said he.

The Frank looked up in surprize.

"Have I a friend in the hosts of Mosul?"

"You shall see!" Zenghi clapped his hands, and Yaruktash,
appearing at the door of the pavilion grasping a slender white wrist,
dragged the owner into view and cast her from him so that she fell to
the carpet almost at the Frank's feet. With a terrible cry he started
up, his face deathly.

"Ellen! My God! Alive!"

"Miles!" she echoed his cry, struggling to her knees. In a mist of
stupefaction he saw her white arms outstretched, her pale face framed
in the golden hair which fell over the white shoulders the scanty
_harim_ garb left bare. Forgetting all else he fell to his knees
beside her, gathering her into his arms.

"Ellen! Ellen de Tremont! I had scoured the world for you and
hacked a path through the legions of Hell itself--but they said you
were dead. Musa, before he died at my feet, swore he saw you lying in
your blood among the corpses of your servants in your courtyard."

"Would God it had been so!" she sobbed, her golden head against
his steel-clad breast. "But when they cut down my servants I fell
among the bodies in a swoon, and their blood stained my garments; so
men thought me dead. It was Zenghi himself who found me alive, and
took me--" She hid her face in her hands.

"And so, Sir Miles du Courcey," broke in the sardonic voice of the
Turk, "you have found a friend among the Mosuli! Fool! My senses are
keener than a whetted sword. Think you I did not know you, despite
your clean-shaven face? I saw you too often on the ramparts of Edessa,
hewing down my memluks. I knew you as soon as you entered. What have
you done with the real messenger?"

Grimly Miles disengaged himself from the girl's clinging arms and
rose, facing the Atabeg. Zenghi likewise rose, quick and lithe as a
great panther, and drew his scimitar, while from all sides the heron-
feathered memluks began to edge in silently. Miles' hand fell away
from his empty scabbard and his eyes rested for an instant on
something close to his feet--a curved knife, used for carving fruit,
and lying there forgotten, half-hidden under a cushion.

"Wulfgar Edric's son lies dead among the trees on the Antioch
road," said Miles grimly. "I shaved off my beard and took his armor
and the ring the dog bore."

"The better to spy on me," quoth Zenghi.

"Aye." There was no fear in Miles du Courcey. "I wished to learn
the details of the plot you hatched with John Comnene, and to obtain
proofs of his treachery and your ambitions to show to the lords of
Outremer."

"I deduced as much," smiled Zenghi. "I knew you, as I said. But I
wished you to betray yourself fully; hence the girl, who has spoken
your name with weeping many times in the years of her captivity."

"It was an unworthy gesture and one in keeping with your
character," said Miles somberly. "Yet I thank you for allowing me to
see her once more, and to know that she is alive whom I thought long
dead."

"I have done her great honor," answered Zenghi laughing. "She has
been in my _harim_ for two years."

Miles' grim eyes only grew more somber, but the great veins
swelled almost to bursting along his temples. At his feet the girl
covered her face with her white hands and wept silently. The boy on
the cushion looked about uncertainly, not understanding. Ousama's fine
eyes were touched with pity. But Zenghi grinned broadly. Such scenes
were like wine to the Turk, shaking inwardly with the gargantuan
laughter of his breed.

"You shall bless me for my bounty, Sir Miles," said Zenghi. "For
my kingly generosity you shall give praise. Lo, the girl is yours!
When I tear you between four wild horses tomorrow, she shall accompany
you to Hell on a pointed stake--ha!"

Like a striking cobra Miles du Courcey had moved. Snatching the
knife from beneath the cushion he leaped--not at the guarded Atabeg on
the divan, but at the child on the edge of the dais. Before any could
stop him, he caught up the boy Saladin with one hand, and with the
other pressed the curved edge to his throat.

"Back, dogs!" His voice cracked with mad triumph. "Back, or I send
this heathen spawn to Hell!"

Zenghi, his face livid, yelled a frenzied order, and the memluks
fell back. Then while the Atabeg stood trembling and uncertain, at a
loss for the first and only time of his whole wild career, du Courcey
backed toward the door, holding his captive, who neither cried out nor
struggled. The contemplative brown eyes showed no fear, only a
fatalistic resignation of a philosophy beyond the owner's years.

"To me, Ellen!" snapped the Norman, his somber despair changed to
dynamic action. "Out of the door behind me--back dogs, I say!"

Out of the pavilion he backed, and the memluks who ran up, sword
in hand, stopped short as they saw the imminent peril of their lord's
favorite. Du Courcey knew that the success of his action depended on
speed. The surprize and boldness of his move had taken Zenghi off
guard, that was all. A group of horses stood near by, saddled and
bridled, always ready for the Atabeg's whim, and du Courcey reached
them with a single long stride, the grooms falling back from his
threat.

"Into a saddle, Ellen!" he snapped, and the girl, who had followed
him like one in a daze, reacting mechanically to his orders, swung
herself up on the nearest mount. Quickly he followed suit and cut the
tethers that held their mounts. A bellow from inside the tent told him
Zenghi's momentarily scattered wits were working again, and he dropped
the child unhurt into the sand. His usefulness was past, as a hostage.
Zenghi, taken by surprize, had instinctively followed the promptings
of his unusual affection for the child, but Miles knew that with his
ruthless reason dominating him again, the Atabeg would not allow even
that affection to stand in the way of their recapture.

The Norman wheeled away, drawing Ellen's steed with him, trying to
shield her with his own body from the arrows which were already
whistling about them. Shoulder to shoulder they raced across the wide
open space in front of the royal pavilion, burst through a ring of
fires, floundered for an instant among tent-pegs, cords and scurrying
yelling figures, then struck the open desert flying and heard the
clamor die out behind them.

It was dark, clouds flying across the sky and drowning the stars.
With the clatter of hoofs behind them, Miles reined aside from the
road that led westward, and turned into the trackless desert. Behind
them the hoof-beats faded westward. The pursuers had taken the old
caravan road, supposing the fugitives to be ahead of them.

"What now, Miles?" Ellen was riding alongside, and clinging to his
iron-sheathed arm as if she feared he might fade suddenly from her
sight.

"If we ride straight for the border they will have us before
dawn," he answered. "But I know this land as well as they--I have
ridden all over it of old in foray and war with the counts of Edessa;
so I know that Jabar Kal'at lies within our reach to the southwest.
The commander of Jabar is a nephew of Muin-ed-din Anar, who is the
real ruler of Damascus, and who, as perhaps you know, has made a pact
with the Christians against Zenghi, his old rival. If we can reach
Jabar, the commander will give us shelter and food, and fresh horses
and an escort to the border."

The girl bowed her head in acquiescence. She was still like one
dazed. The light of hope burned too feebly in her soul to sting her
with new pangs. Perhaps in her captivity she had absorbed some of the
fatalism of her masters. Miles looked at her, drooping in the saddle,
humble and silent, and thought of the picture he retained of a saucy,
laughing beauty, vibrant with vitality and mirth. And he cursed Zenghi
and his works with sick fury. So through the night they rode, the
broken woman and the embittered man, handiworks of the Lion who dealt
in swords and souls and human hearts, and whose victims, living and
dead, filled the land like a blight of sorrow, agony and despair.

All night they pressed forward as fast as they dared, listening
for sounds that would tell them the pursuers had found their trail,
and in the dawn, which lit the helmets of swift-following horsemen,
they saw the towers of Jabar rising above the mirroring waters of the
Euphrates. It was a strong keep, guarded with a moat that encircled
it, connecting with the river at either end. At their hail the
commander of the castle appeared on the wall, and a few words sufficed
to cause the drawbridge to be lowered. It was not a moment too soon.
As they clattered across the bridge, the drum of hoofs was in their
ears, and as they passed through the gates, arrows fell in a shower
about them.

The leader of the pursuers reined his rearing steed and called
arrogantly to the commander on the tower. "Oh man, give up these
fugitives, lest thy blood quench the embers of thy keep!"

"Am I then a dog that you speak to me thus?" queried the Seljuk,
clutching his beard in passion. "Begone, or my archers will feather
thy carcass with fifty shafts."

For answer the memluk laughed jeeringly and pointed to the desert.
The commander paled. Far away the sun glinted on a moving ocean of
steel. His practiced eye told him that a whole army was on the march.

"Zenghi has turned from his march to hunt down a pair of fleeing
jackals," called the memluk mockingly. "Great honor he has done them,
marching hard on their spoor all night. Send them out, oh fool, and my
master will ride on in peace."

"Let it be as Allah wills," said the Seljuk, recovering his poise.
"But the friends of my uncle have thrown themselves into my hands, and
may shame rest on me and mine if I give them to the butcher."

Nor did he alter his resolution when Zenghi himself, his face dark
with passion as the cloak that flowed from his steel-clad shoulders,
sat his stallion beneath the towers and called: "Oh man, by receiving
mine enemy thou hast forfeited thy castle and thy life. Yet I will be
merciful. Send out those who fled and I will allow thee to march out
unharmed with thy women and retainers. Persist in this madness and I
will burn thee like a rat in thy castle."

"Let it be as Allah wills," repeated the Seljuk philosophically,
and in an undertone spoke quietly to a crouching archer, "Drive
quickly a shaft through yon dog."

The arrow glanced harmlessly from Zenghils breastplate and the
Atabeg galloped out of range with a shout of mocking laughter. Now
began the siege of Jabar Kal'at, unsung and unglorified, yet in the
course of which the dice of Fate were cast.

Zenghi's riders laid waste the surrounding countryside and drew a
cordon about the castle through which no courier could steal to ride
for aid. While the emir of Damascus and the lords of Outremer remained
in ignorance of what was taking place beyond the Euphrates, their ally
waged his unequal battle.

By nightfall the wagons and siege engines came up, and Zenghi set
to his task with the skill of long practice. The Turkish sappers
dammed up the moat at the upper end, despite the arrows of the
defenders, and filled up the drained ditch with earth and stone. Under
cover of darkness they sank mines beneath the towers. Zenghi's
ballistas creaked and crashed and huge rocks knocked men off the walls
like tenpins or smashed through the roof of the towers. His rams
gnawed and pounded at the walls, his archers plied the turrets with
their arrows everlastingly, and on scaling-ladders and storming-towers
his memluks moved unceasingly to the onset. Food waned in the castle's
larders; the heaps of dead grew larger, the rooms became full of
wounded men, groaning and writhing.

But the Seljuk commander did not falter on the path his feet had
taken. He knew that he could not now buy safety from Zenghi, even by
giving up his guests; to his credit, he never even considered giving
them up. Du Courcey knew this, and though no word of the matter was
spoken between them, the commander had evidence of the Norman's fierce
gratitude. Miles showed his appreciation in actions, not words--in the
fighting on the walls, in the slaughter in the gates, in the long
night-watches on the towers; with whirring sword-strokes that clove
bucklers and peaked helmets, that cleft spines and severed necks and
limbs and shattered skulls; by the casting down of scaling-ladders
when the clinging Turks howled as they crashed to their death, and
their comrades cried out at the terrible strength in the Frank's naked
hands. But the rams crunched, the arrows sang, the steel tides surged
on again and again, and the haggard defenders dropped one by one until
only a skeleton force held the crumbling walls of Jabar Kal'at.



Chapter 5



In his pavilion little more than a bowshot from the beleaguered
walls, Zenghi played chess with Ousama. The madness of the day had
given way to the brooding silence of night, broken only by the distant
cries of wounded men in delirium.

"Men are my pawns, friend," said the Atabeg. "I turn adversity
into triumph. I had long sought an excuse to attack Jabar Kal'at,
which will make a strong outpost against the Franks once I have taken
it and repaired the dents I have made, and filled it with my memluks.
I knew my captives would ride hither; that is why I broke camp and
took up the march before my scouts found their tracks. It was their
logical refuge. I will have the castle and the Franks, which last is
most vital. Were the Caphars to learn now of my intrigue with the
emperor, my plans might well come to naught. But they will not know
until I strike. Du Courcey will never bear news to them. If he does
not fall with the castle, I will tear him between wild horses as I
promised, and the infidel girl shall watch, sitting on a pointed
stake."

"Is there no mercy in your soul, Zenghi?" protested the Arab.

"Has life shown mercy to me save what I wrung forth by the sword?"
exclaimed Zenghi, his eyes blazing in a momentary upheaval of his
passionate spirit. "A man must smite or be smitten--slay or be slain.
Men are wolves, and I am but the strongest wolf of the pack. Because
they fear me, men crawl and kiss my sandals. Fear is the only emotion
by which they may be touched."

"You are a pagan at heart, Zenghi," sighed Ousama.

"It may be," answered the Turk with a shrug of his shoulders. "Had
I been born beyond the Oxus and bowed to yellow Erlik as did my
grandsire, I had been no less Zenghi the Lion. I have spilled rivers
of gore for the glory of Allah, but I have never asked mercy or favor
of Him. What care the gods if a man lives or dies? Let me live deep,
let me know the sting of wine in my palate, the wind in my face, the
glitter of royal pageantry, the bright madness of slaughter--let me
burn and sting and tingle with the madness of life and living, and I
quest not whether Muhammad's paradise, or Erlik's frozen hell, or the
blackness of empty-oblivion lies beyond."

As if to give point to his words, he poured himself a goblet of
wine and looked interrogatively at Ousama. The Arab, who had shuddered
at Zenghi's blasphemous words, drew back in pious horror. The Atabeg
emptied the goblet, smacking his lips loudly in relish, Tatar-fashion.

"I think Jabar Kal'at will fall tomorrow," he said. "Who has stood
against me? Count them, Ousama--there was ibn Sadaka, and the Caliph,
and the Seljuk Timurtash, and the sultan Dawud, and the king of
Jerusalem, and the count of Edessa. Man after man, city after city,
army after army, I broke them and brushed them from my path."

"You have waded through a sea of blood," said Ousama. "You have
filled the slave-markets with Frankish girls, and the deserts with the
bones of Frankish warriors. Nor have you spared your rivals among the
Moslems."

"They stood in the way of my destiny," laughed the Turk, "and that
destiny is to be sultan of Asia! As I will be. I have welded the
swords of Irak, el Jezira, Syria and Roum, into a single blade. Now
with the aid of the Greeks, all Hell can not save the Nazarenes.
Slaughter? Men have seen naught; wait until I ride into Antioch and
Jerusalem, sword in hand!"

"Your heart is steel," said the Arab. "Yet I have seen one touch
of tenderness in you--your affection for Nejm-ed-din's son, Yusef. Is
there a like touch of repentance in you? Of all your deeds, is there
none you regret?"

Zenghi played with a pawn in silence, and his face darkened.

"Aye," he said slowly. "It was long ago, when I broke ibn Sadaka
beside the lower reaches of this very river. He had a son, Achmet, a
girl-faced boy. I beat him to death with my riding-scourge. It is the
one deed I could wish undone. Sometimes I dream of it."

Then with an abrupt "Enough!" he thrust aside the board,
scattering the chessmen. "I would sleep," said he, and throwing
himself on his cushion-heaped divan, he was instantly locked in
slumber. Ousama went quietly from the tent, passing between the four
giant memluks in gilded mail who stood with wide-tipped scimitars at
the pavilion door.

In the castle of Jabar, the Seljuk commander held counsel with Sir
Miles du Courcey. "My brother, for us the end of the road has come.
The walls are crumbling, the towers leaning to their fall. Shall we
not fire the castle, cut the throats of our women and children, and go
forth to die like men in the dawn?"

Sir Miles shook his head. "Let us hold the walls for one more day.
In a dream I saw the banners of Damascus and of Antioch marching to
our aid."

He lied in a desperate attempt to bolster up the fatalistic
Seljuk. Each followed the instinct of his kind, and Miles was to cling
with teeth and nails to the last vestige of life until the bitter end.
The Seljuk bowed his head.

"If Allah wills, we will hold the walls for another day."

Miles thought of Ellen, into whose manner something of the old
vibrant spirit was beginning to steal faintly again, and in the
blackness of his despair no light gleamed from earth or heaven. The
finding of her had stung to life a heart long frozen; now in death he
must lose her again. With the taste of bitter ashes in his mouth he
bent his shoulders anew to the burden of life.

In his tent Zenghi moved restlessly. Alert as a panther, even in
sleep, his instinct told him that someone was moving stealthily near
him. He woke and sat up glaring. The fat eunuch Yaruktash halted
suddenly, the wine jug halfway to his lips. He had thought Zenghi lay
helplessly drunk when he stole into the tent to filch the liquor he
loved. Zenghi snarled like a wolf, his familiar devil rising in his
brain.

"Dog! Am I a fat merchant that you steal into my tent to guzzle my
wine? Begone! Tomorrow I will see to you!"

Cold sweat beaded Yaruktash's sleek hide as he fled from the royal
pavilion. His fat flesh quivered with agonized anticipation of the
sharp stake which would undoubtedly be his portion. In a day of cruel
masters, Zenghi's name was a byword of horror among slaves and
servitors.

One of the memluks outside the tent caught Yaruktash's arm and
growled, "Why flee you, gelding?"

A great flare of light rose in the eunuch's brain, so that he
gasped at its grandeur and audacity. Why remain here to be impaled,
when the whole desert was open before him, and here were men who would
protect him in his flight?

"Our lord discovered me drinking his wine," he gasped. "He
threatens me with torture and death."

The memluks laughed appreciatively, their crude humor touched by
the eunuch's fright. Then they started convulsively as Yaruktash
added, "You too are doomed. I heard him curse you for not keeping
better watch, and allowing his slaves to steal his wine."

The fact that they had never been told to bar the eunuch from the
royal pavilion meant nothing to the memluks, their wits frozen with
sudden fear. They stood dumbly, incapable of coherent thought, their
minds like empty jugs ready to be filled with the eunuch's guile. A
few whispered words and they slunk away like shadows on Yaruktash's
heels, leaving the pavilion unguarded.

The night waned. Midnight hovered and was gone. The moon sank
below the desert hills in a welter of blood. From dreams of imperial
pageantry Zenghi again awoke, to stare bewilderedly about the dim-lit
pavilion. Without, all was silence that seemed suddenly tense and
sinister. The prince lay in the midst of ten thousand armed men; yet
he felt suddenly apart and alone, as if he were the last man left
alive on a dead world. Then he saw that he was not alone. Looking
somberly down on him stood a strange and alien figure. It was a man,
whose rags did not hide his gaunt limbs, at which Zenghi stared
appalled. They were gnarled like the twisted branches of ancient oaks,
knotted with masses of muscle and thews, each of which stood out
distinct, like iron cables. There was no soft flesh to lend symmetry
or to mask the raw savagery of sheer power. Only years of incredible
labor could have produced this terrible monument of muscular over-
development. White hair hung about the great shoulders, a white beard
fell upon the mighty breast. His terrible arms were folded, and he
stood motionless as a statue looking down upon the stupefied Turk. His
features were gaunt and deep-lined, as if cut by some mad artist's
chisel from bitter, frozen rock.

"Avaunt!" gasped Zenghi, momentarily a pagan of the steppes.
"Spirit of evil--ghost of the desert--demon of the hills--I fear you
not!"

"Well may you speak of ghosts, Turk!" The deep hollow voice woke
dim memories in Zenghi's brain. "I am the ghost of a man dead twenty
years, come up from darkness deeper than the darkness of Hell. Have
you forgotten my promise, Prince Zenghi?"

"Who are you?" demanded the Turk.

"I am John Norwald."

"The Frank who rode with ibn Sadaka? Impossible!" ejaculated the
Atabeg. "Twenty-three years ago I doomed him to the rower's bench.
What galley-slave could live so long?"

"I lived," retorted the other. "Where others died like flies, I
lived. The lash that scarred my back in a thousand overlying patterns
could not kill me, nor starvation, nor storm, nor pestilence, nor
battle. The years have been long, Zenghi esh Shami, and the darkness
deep and full of mocking voices and haunting faces. Look at my hair,
Zenghi--white as hoarfrost, though I am eight years younger than
yourself. Look at these monstrous talons that were hands, these
knotted limbs--they have driven the weighted oars for many a thousand
leagues through storm and calm. Yet I lived, Zenghi, even when my
flesh cried out to end the long agony. When I fainted on the oar, it
was not ripping lash that roused me to life anew, but the hate that
would not let me die. That hate has kept the soul in my tortured body
for twenty-three years, dog of Tiberias. In the galleys I lost my
youth, my hope, my manhood, my soul, my faith and my God. But my hate
burned on, a flame that nothing could quench.

"Twenty years at the oars, Zenghi! Three years ago the galley in
which I then toiled crashed on the reefs off the coast of India. All
died but me, who, knowing my hour had come, burst my chains with the
strength and madness of a giant, and gained the shore. My feet are yet
unsteady from the shackles and the galley-bench, Zenghi, though my
arms are strong beyond the belief of man. I have been on the road from
India for three years. But the road ends here."

For the first time in his life Zenghi knew fear that froze his
tongue to his palate and turned the marrow in his bones to ice.

"Ho, guards!" he roared. "To me, dogs!"

"Call louder, Zenghi!" said Norwald in his hollow resounding
voice. "They hear thee not. Through thy sleeping host I passed like
the Angel of Death, and none saw me. Thy tent stood unguarded. Lo,
mine enemy, thou art delivered into my hand, and thine hour has come!"

With the ferocity of desperation Zenghi leaped from his cushions,
whipping out a dagger, but like a great gaunt tiger the Englishman was
upon him, crushing him back on the divan. The Turk struck blindly,
felt the blade sink deep into the other's side; then as he wrenched
the weapon free to strike again, he felt an iron grip on his wrist,
and the Frank's right hand locked on his throat, choking his cry.

As he felt the inhuman strength of his attacker, blind panic swept
the Atabeg. The fingers on his wrist did not feel like human bone and
flesh and sinew. They were like the steel jaws of a vise that crushed
through flesh and muscle. Over the inexorable fingers that sank into
his bull-throat, blood trickled from skin torn like rotten cloth. Mad
with the torture of strangulation, Zenghi tore at the wrist with his
free hand, but he might have been wrenching at a steel bar welded to
his throat. The massed muscles of Norwald's left arm knotted with
effort, and with a sickening snap Zenghi's wrist bones gave way. The
dagger fell from his nerveless hand, and instantly Norwald caught it
up and sank the point into the Atabeg's breast.

The Turk released the arm that prisoned his throat, and caught the
knife-wrist, but all his desperate strength could not stay the
inexorable thrust. Slowly, slowly, Norwald drove home the keen point,
while the Turk writhed in soundless agony. Approaching through the
mists which veiled his glazing sight, Zenghi saw a face, raw, torn and
bleeding. And then the dagger-point found his heart and visions and
life ended together.

Ousama, unable to sleep, approached the Atabeg's tent, wondering
at the absence of the guardsmen. He stopped short, an uncanny fear
prickling the short hairs at the back of his neck, as a form came from
the pavilion. He made out a tall white-bearded man, clad in rags. The
Arab stretched forth a hand timidly, but dared not touch the
apparition. He saw that the figure's hand was pressed against its left
side, and blood oozed darkly from between the fingers.

"Where go you, old man?" stammered the Arab, involuntarily
stepping back as the white-bearded stranger fixed weird blazing eyes
upon him.

"I go back to the void which gave me birth," answered the figure
in a deep ghostly voice, and as the Arab stared in bewilderment, the
stranger passed on with slow, certain, unwavering steps, to vanish in
the darkness.

Ousama ran into Zenghi's tent--to halt aghast at sight of the
Atabeg's body lying stark among the torn silks and bloodstained
cushions of the royal divan.

"Alas for kingly ambitions and high visions!" exclaimed the Arab.
"Death is a black horse that may halt in the night by any tent, and
life is more unstable than the foam on the sea! Woe for Islam, for her
keenest sword is broken! Now may Christendom rejoice, for the Lion
that roared against her lies lifeless!"

Like wildfire ran through the camp the word of the Atabeg's death,
and like chaff blown on the winds his followers scattered, looting the
camp as they fled. The power that had welded them together was broken,
and it was every man for himself, and the plunder to the strong.

The haggard defenders on the walls, lifting their notched stumps
of blades for the last death-grapple, gaped as they saw the confusion
in the camp, the running to and fro, the brawling, the looting and
shouting, and at last the scattering over the plain of emirs and
retainers alike. These hawks lived by the sword, and they had no time
for the dead, however regal. They turned their steeds aside to seek a
new lord, in a race for the strongest.

Stunned by the miracle, not yet understanding the cast of Fate
that had saved Jabar Kal'at and Outremer, Miles du Courcey stood with
Ellen and their Seljuk friend, staring down on a silent and abandoned
camp, where the torn deserted tent flapped idly in the morning breeze
above the bloodstained body that had been the Lion of Tiberias.



THE END



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