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Title: The Sowers of the Thunder
Author: Robert E. Howard
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0608111.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2006
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The Sowers of the Thunder
Robert E. Howard



Iron winds and ruin and flame.
And a Horseman shaking with giant mirth;
Over the corpse-strewn, blackened earth
Death, stalking naked, came
Like a storm-cloud shattering the ships;
Yet the Rider seated high.
Paled at the smile on a dead king's lips.
As the tall white horse went by.
   --The Ballad of Baibars



CHAPTER 1



The idlers in the tavern glanced up at the figure framed in the
doorway. It was a tall broad man who stood there, with the torch-lit
shadows and the clamor of the bazaars at his back. His garments were
simple tunic, and short breeches of leather; a camel's-hair mantle
hung from his broad shoulders and sandals were on his feet. But
belying the garb of the peaceful traveler, a short straight stabbing
sword hung at his girdle. One massive arm, ridged with muscles, was
outstretched, the brawny hand gripping a pilgrim's staff, as the man
stood, powerful legs wide braced, in the doorway. His bare legs were
hairy, knotted like tree trunks. His coarse red locks were confined by
a single band of blue cloth, and from his square dark face, his
strange blue eyes blazed with a kind of reckless and wayward mirth,
reflected by the half-smile that curved his thin lips.

His glance passed over the hawk-faced seafarers and ragged
loungers who brewed tea and squabbled endlessly, to rest on a man who
sat apart at a rough-hewn table, with a wine pitcher. Such a man the
watcher in the door had never seen--tall, deep-chested, broad-shouldered, built with the dangerous suppleness of a panther. His eyes
were as cold as blue ice, set off by a mane of golden hair tinted with
red; so to the man in the doorway that hair seemed like burning gold.
The man at the table wore a light shirt of silvered mail, a long lean
sword hung at his hip, and on the bench beside him lay a kite-shaped
shield and a light helmet.

The man in the guise of a traveler strode purposefully forward and
halted, hands resting on the table across which he smiled mockingly at
the other, and spoke in a tongue strange to the seated man, newly come
to the East.

The one turned to an idler and asked in Norman French: "What does
the infidel say?"

"I said," replied the traveler in the same tongue, "that a man can
not even enter an Egyptian inn these days without finding some dog of
a Christian under his feet."

As the traveler had spoken the other had risen, and now the
speaker dropped his hand to his sword. Scintillant lights flickered in
the other's eyes and he moved like a flash of summer lightning. His
left hand darted out to lock in the breast of the traveler's tunic,
and in his right hand the long sword flashed out. The traveler was
caught flat-footed, his sword half clear of its sheath. But the faint
smile did not leave his lips and he stared almost childishly at the
blade that flickered before his eyes, as if fascinated by its
dazzling.

"Heathen dog," snarled the swordsman, and his voice was like the
slash of a blade through fabric, "I'll send you to Hell unshriven!"

"What panther whelped you that you move as a cat strikes?"
responded the other curiously, as calmly as if his life were not
weighing in the balance. "But you took me by surprize. I did not know
that a Frank dare draw sword in Damietta."

The Frank glared at him moodily; the wine he had drunk showed in
the dangerous gleams that played in his eyes where lights and shadows
continuously danced and shifted.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

"Haroum the Traveler," the other grinned. "Put up your steel. I
crave pardon for my gibing words. It seems there are Franks of the old
breed yet."

With a change of mood the Frank thrust his sword back into its
sheath with an impatient clash. Turning back to his bench he indicated
table and wine pitcher with a sweeping gesture.

"Sit and refresh yourself; if you are a traveler, you have a tale
to tell."

Haroun did not at once comply. His gaze swept the inn and he
beckoned the innkeeper, who came grudgingly forward. As he approached
the Traveler, the innkeeper suddenly shrank back with a low half-
stifled cry. Haroun's eyes went suddenly merciless and he said, "What
then, host, do you see in me a man you have known aforetime,
perchance?"

His voice was like the purr of a hunting tiger and the wretched
innkeeper shivered as with an ague, his dilated eyes fixed on the
broad, corded hand that stroked the hilt of the stabbing-sword.

"No, no, master," he mouthed. "By Allah, I know you not--I never
saw you before--and Allah grant I never see you again," he added
mentally.

"Then tell me what does this Frank here, in mail and wearing a
sword," ordered Haroun bruskly, in Turki. "The dog-Venetians are
allowed to trade in Damietta as in Alexandria, but they pay for the
privilege in humility and insult, and none dares gird on a blade
here--much less lift it against a Believer."

"He is no Venetian, good Haroun," answered the innkeeper.
"Yesterday he came ashore from a Venetian trading-galley, but he
consorts not with the traders or the crew of the infidels. He strides
boldly through the streets, wearing steel openly and ruffling against
all who would cross him. He says he is going to Jerusalem and could
not find a ship bound for any port in Palestine, so came here,
intending to travel the rest of the way by land. The Believers have
said he is mad, and none molests him."

"Truly, the mad are touched by Allah and given His protection,"
mused Haroun. "Yet this man is not altogether mad, I think. Bring
wine, dog!"

The innkeeper ducked in a deep salaam and hastened off to do the
Traveler's bidding. The Prophet's command against strong drink was
among other orthodox precepts disobeyed in Damietta where many nations
foregathered and Turk rubbed shoulders with Copt, Arab with Sudani.

Haroun seated himself opposite the Frank and took the wine goblet
proffered by a servant.

"You sit in the midst of your enemies like a shah of the East, my
lord," he grinned. "By Allah, you have the bearing of a king."

"I am a king, infidel," growled the other; the wine he had drunk
had touched him with a reckless and mocking madness.

"And where lies your kingdom, _malik?_" The question was not asked
in mockery. Haroun had seen many broken kings drifting among the
debris that floated Eastward.

"On the dark side of the moon," answered the Frank with a wild and
bitter laugh. "Among the ruins of all the unborn or forgotten empires
which etch the twilight of the lost ages. Cahal Ruadh O'Donnel, king
of Ireland--the name means naught to you, Haroun of the East, and
naught to the land which was my birthright. They who were my foes sit
in the high seats of power, they who were my vassals lie cold and
still, the bats haunt my shattered castles, and already the name of
Red Cahal is dim in the memories of men. So--fill up my goblet,
slave!"

"You have the soul of a warrior, _malik_. Was it treachery
overcame you?"

"Aye, treachery," swore Cahal, "and the wiles of a woman who
coiled about my soul until I was as one blind--to be cast out at the
end like a broken pawn. Aye, the Lady Elinor de Courcey, with her
black hair like midnight shadows on Lough Derg, and the gray eyes of
her, like--" he started suddenly, like a man waking from a trance, and
his wayward eyes blazed.

"Saints and devils!" he roared. "Who are you that I should spill
out my soul to? The wine has betrayed me and loosened my tongue, but
I--" He reached for his sword but Haroun laughed.

"I've done you no harm, _malik_. Turn this murderous spirit of
yours into another channel. By Erlik, I'll give you a test to cool
your blood!"

Rising, he caught up a javelin lying beside a drunken soldier, and
striding around the table, his eyes recklessly alight, he extended his
massive arm, gripping the shaft close to the middle, point upward.

"Grip the shaft, _malik_," he laughed. "In all my days I have met
no one who was man enough to twist a stave out of my hand."

Cahal rose and gripped the shaft so that his clenched fingers
almost touched those of Haroun. Then, legs braced wide, arms bent at
the elbow, each man exerted his full strength against the other. They
were well matched; Cahal was a trifle taller, Haroun thicker of body.
It was bear opposed to tiger. Like two statues they stood straining,
neither yielding an inch, the javelin almost motionless under the
equal forces. Then, with a sudden rending snap, the tough wood gave
way and each man staggered, holding half the shaft, which had parted
under the terrific strain.

"_Hai!_" shouted Haroun, his eyes sparkling; then they dulled with
sudden doubt.

"By Allah, _malik_," said he, "this is an ill thing! Of two men,
one should be master of the other, lest both come to a bad end. Yet
this signifies that neither of us will ever yield to the other, and in
the end, each will work the other ill."

"Sit down and drink," answered the Gael, tossing aside the broken
shaft and reaching for the wine goblet, his dreams of lost grandeur
and his anger both apparently forgotten. "I have not been long in the
East, but I knew not there were such as you among the paynim. Surely
you are not one with the Egyptians, Arabs and Turks I have seen."

"I was born far to the east, among the tents of the Golden Horde,
on the steppes of High Asia," said Haroun, his mood changing back to
joviality as he flung himself down on his bench. "Ha! I was almost a
man grown before I heard of Muhammad--on whom peace! _Hai, bogatyr,_ I
have been many things! Once I was a princeling of the Tatars--son of
the lord Subotai who was right hand to Genghis Khan. Once I was a
slave--when the Turkomans drove a raid east and carried off youths and
girls from the Horde. In the slave markets of El Kahira I was sold for
three pieces of silver, by Allah, and my master gave me to the
Bahairiz--the slave-soldiers--because he feared I'd strangle him. Ha!
Now I am Haroun the Traveler, making pilgrimage to the holy place. But
once, only a few days agone, I was man to Baibars--whom the devil fly
away with!"

"Men say in the streets that this Baibars is the real ruler of
Cairo," said Cahal curiously; new to the East though he was, he had
heard that name oft-repeated.

"Men lie," responded Haroun. "The sultan rules Egypt and Shadjar
ad Darr rules the sultan. Baibars is only the general of the
Bahairiz--the great oaf!

"I was his man!" he shouted suddenly, with a great laugh, "to come
and go at his bidding--to put him to bed--to rise with him--to sit
down at meat with him--aye, and to put food and drink into his fool's-
mouth. But I have escaped him! Allah, by Allah and by Allah, I have
naught to do with this great fool Baibars tonight! I am a free man and
the devil may fly away with him and with the sultan, and Shadjar ad
Darr and all Saladin's empire! But I am my own man tonight!"

He pulsed with an energy that would not let him be still or
silent; he seemed vibrant and joyously mad with the sheer exuberance
of life and the huge mirth of living. With gargantuan laughter he
smote the table thunderously with his open hand and roared: "By Allah,
_malik_, you shall help me celebrate my escape from the great oaf
Baibars--whom the devil fly away with! Away with this slop, dogs!
Bring kumiss! The Nazarene lord and I intend to hold such a drinking
bout as Damietta's inns have not seen in a hundred years!"

"But my master has already emptied a full wine pitcher and is more
than half drunk!" clamored the nondescript servant Cahal had picked up
on the wharves--not that he cared, but whomever he served, he wished
to have the best of any contest, and besides it was his Oriental
instinct to intrude his say.

"So!" roared Haroun, catching up a full wine pitcher. "I will not
take advantage of any man! See--I quaff this thimbleful that we may
start on even terms!" And drinking deeply, he flung down the pitcher
empty.

The servants of the inn brought kumiss--fermented mare's milk, in
leathern skins, bound and sealed--illegal drink, brought down by the
caravans from the lands of the Turkomans, to tempt the sated palates
of nobles, and to satisfy the craving of the steppesmen among the
mercenaries and the Bahairiz.

Then, goblet for goblet with Haroun, Cahal quaffed the unfamiliar,
whitish, acid stuff, and never had the exiled Irish prince seen such a
cup-companion as this wanderer. For between enormous drafts, Haroun
shook the smoke-stained rafters with giant laughter, and shouted over
spicy tales that breathed the very scents of Cairo's merry obscenity
and high comedy. He sang Arab love songs that sighed with the whisper
of palm leaves and the swish of silken veils, and he roared riding
songs in a tongue none in the tavern understood, but which vibrated
with the drum of Mongol hoofs and the clashing of swords.

The moon had set and even the clamor of Damietta had ebbed in the
darkness before dawn, when Haroun staggered up and clutched reeling at
the table for support. A single weary slave stood by, to pour wine.
Keeper, servants and guests snored on the floor or had slipped away
long before. Haroun shouted a thick-tongued war cry and yelled aloud
with the sheer riotousness of his mirth. Sweat stood in beads on his
face and the veins of his temples swelled and throbbed from his
excesses. His wild wayward eyes danced with joyous deviltry.

"Would you were not a king, _malik!_" he roared, catching up a
stout bludgeon. "I would show you cudgel-play! Aye, my blood is racing
like a Turkoman stallion and in good sport I would fain deal strong
blows on somebody's pate, by Allah!"

"Then grip your stick, man," answered Cahal reeling up. "Men call
me fool, but no man has ever said I was backward where blows were
going, be they of steel or wood!"

Upsetting the table, he gripped a leg and wrenched powerfully.
There was a splintering of wood, and the rough leg came away in his
iron hand.

"Here is my cudgel, wanderer!" roared the Gael. "Let the breaking
of heads begin and if the Prophet loves you, he'd best fling his
mantle over your skull!"

"Salaam to you, _malik!_" yelled Haroun. "No other king since
Malik Ric would take up cudgels with a masterless wanderer!" And with
giant laughter, he lunged.

The fight was necessarily short and fierce. The wine they had
drunk had made eye and hand uncertain, and their feet unsteady, but it
had not robbed them of their tigerish strength. Haroun struck first,
as a bear strikes, and it was by luck rather than skill that Cahal
partly parried the whistling blow. Even so it fell glancingly above
his ear, filling his vision with a myriad sparks of light, and
knocking him back against the upset table. Cahal gripped the table
edge with his left hand for support and struck back so savagely and
swiftly that Haroun could neither duck nor parry. Blood spattered, the
cudgel splintered in Cahal's hand and the Traveler dropped like a log,
to lie motionless.

Cahal flung aside his cudgel with a motion of disgust and shook
his head violently to clear it.

"Neither of us would yield to the other--well, in this I have
prevailed--"

He stopped. Haroun lay sprawled serenely and a sound of placid
snoring rose on the air. Cahal's blow had laid open his scalp and
felled him, but it was the incredible amount of liquor the Tatar had
drunk that had caused him to lie where he had fallen. And now Cahal
knew that if he did not get out into the cool night air at once, he
too would fall senseless beside Haroun.

Cursing himself disgustedly, he kicked his servant awake and
gathering up shield, helmet and cloak, staggered out of the inn. Great
white clusters of stars hung over the flat roofs of Damietta,
reflected in the black lapping waves of the river. Dogs and beggars
slept in the dust of the street, and in the black shadows of the
crooked alleys not even a thief stole. Cahal swung into the saddle of
the horse the sleepy servant brought, and reined his way through the
winding silent streets. A cold wind, forerunner of dawn, cleared away
the fumes of the wine as he rode out of the tangle of alleys and
bazaars. Dawn was not yet whitening the east, but the tang of dawn was
in the air.

Past the flat-topped mud huts along the irrigation ditches he
rode, past the wells with their long wooden sweeps and deep clumps of
palms. Behind him the ancient city slumbered, shadowy, mysterious,
alluring. Before him stretched the sands of the Jifar.



CHAPTER 2



The Bedouins did not cut Red Cahal's throat on the road from
Damietta to Ascalon. He was preserved for a different destiny and so
he rode, careless, and alone except for his ragamuffin servant, across
the wastelands, and no barbed arrow or curved blade touched him,
though a band of hawk-like riders in floating white khalats harried
him the last part of the way and followed him like a wolf pack to the
very gates of the Christian outposts.

It was a restless and unquiet land through which Red Cahal rode on
his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the warm spring days of that year 1243.
The red-haired prince learned much that was new to him, of the land
which had been but a vague haze of disconnected names and events in
his mind when he started on his exiled pilgrimage. He had known that
the Emperor Frederick II had regained Jerusalem from the infidels
without fighting a battle. Now he learned that the Holy City was
shared with the Moslems--to whom it likewise was holy; Al Kuds, the
Holy, they called it, for from thence, they said, Muhammad ascended to
paradise, and there on the last day would he sit in judgment on the
souls of men.

And Cahal learned that the kingdom of Outremer was but a shadow of
an heroic past. In the north Bohemund VI held Antioch and Tripoli. In
the south Christendom held the coast as far as Ascalon, with some
inland towns such as Hebron, Bethlehem, and Ramlah. The grim castles
of the Templars and of the Knights of St. John loomed like watchdogs
above the land and the fierce soldier-monks wore arms day and night,
ready to ride to any part of the kingdom threatened by pagan invasion.
But how long could that thin line of ramparts and men along the coast
stand against the growing pressure of the heathen hinterlands?

In the talk of castle and tavern, as he rode toward Jerusalem,
Cahal heard again the name of Baibars. Men said the sultan of Egypt,
kin of the great Saladin, was in his dotage, ruled by the girl-slave,
Shadjar ad Darr, and that sharing her rule were the war-chiefs, Ae Beg
the Kurd, and Baibars the Panther. This Baibars was a devil in human
form, men said--a guzzler of wine and a lover of women; yet his wits
were as keen as a monk's and his prowess in battle was the subject of
many songs among the Arab minstrels. A strong man, and ambitious.

He was generalissimo of the mercenaries, men said, who were the
real strength of the Egyptian army--Bahairiz, some called them, others
the White Slaves of the River, the memluks. This host was, in the
main, composed of Turkish slaves, raised up in its ranks and trained
only in the arts of war. Baibars himself had served as a common
soldier in the ranks, rising to power by the sheer might of his arm.
He could eat a roasted sheep at one meal, the Arab wanderers said, and
though wine was forbidden the Faithful, it was well known that he had
drunk all his officers under the table. He had been known to break a
man's spine in his bare hands in a moment of rage, and when he rode
into battle swinging his heavy scimitar, none could stand before him.

And if this incarnate devil came up out of the South with his
cutthroats, how could the lords of Outremer stand against him, without
the aid that war-torn and intrigue-racked Europe had ceased to send?
Spies slipped among the Franks, learning their weaknesses, and it was
said that Baibars himself had gained entrance into Bohemund's palace
in the guise of a wandering teller-of-tales. He must be in league with
the Evil One himself, this Egyptian chief. He loved to go among his
people in disguise, it was said, and he ruthlessly slew any man who
recognized him. A strange soul, full of wayward whims, yet ferocious
as a tiger.

Yet it was not so much Baibars of whom the people talked, nor yet
of Sultan Ismail, the Moslem lord of Damascus. There was a threat in
the blue mysterious East which overshadowed both these nearer foes.

Cahal heard of a strange new terrible people, like a scourge out
of the East--Mongols, or Tartars as the priests called them, swearing
they were the veritable demons of Tatary, spoken of by the prophets of
old. More than a score of years before they had burst like a sandstorm
out of the East, trampling all in their path; Islam had crumpled
before them and kings had been dashed into the dust. And as their
chief, men named one Subotai, whom Haroun the Traveler, Cahal
remembered, had claimed as sire.

Then the horde had turned its course and the Holy Land had been
spared. The Mongols had drifted back into the limbo of the unknown
East with their ox-tail standards, their lacquered armor, their
kettledrums and terrible bows, and men had almost forgotten them. But
now of late years the vultures had circled again in the East, and from
time to time news had trickled down through the hills of the Kurds, of
the Turkoman clans flying in shattered rout before the yak-tail
banners. Suppose the unconquerable Horde should turn southward?
Subotai had spared Palestine--but who knew the mind of Mangu Khan,
whom the Arab wanderers named the present lord of the nomads?

So the people talked in the dreamy spring weather as Cahal rode to
Jerusalem, seeking to forget the past, losing himself in the present;
absorbing the spirit and traditions of the country and the people,
picking up new languages with the characteristic facility of the Gael.

He journeyed to Hebron, and in the great cathedral of the Virgin
at Bethlehem, knelt beside the crypt where candles burned to mark the
birthplace of our fair Seigneur Christ. And he rode up to Jerusalem,
with its ruined walls and its mullahs calling the muezzin within
earshot of the priests chanting beside the Sepulcher. Those walls had
been destroyed by the Sultan of Damascus, years before.

Beyond the Via Dolorosa he saw the slender columns of the Al Aksa
portals and was told Christian hands first shaped them. He was shown
mosques that had once been Christian chapels, and was told that the
gilded dome above the mosque of Omar covered a grey rock which was the
Muhammadan holy of holies--the rock whence the Prophet ascended to
paradise. Aye, and thereon, in the days of Israel, had Abraham stood,
and the Ark of the Covenant had rested, and the Temple whence Christ
drove the merchants; for the Rock was the pinnacle of Mount Moriah,
one of the two mountains on which Jerusalem was built. But now the
Moslem Dome of the Rock hid it from Christian view, and dervishes with
naked swords stood night and day to bar the way of Unbelievers; though
nominally the city was in Christian hands. And Cahal realized how weak
the Franks of Outremer had grown.

He rode in the hills about the Holy City and stood on the Mount of
Olives where Tancred had stood, nearly a hundred and fifty years
before, for his first sight of Jerusalem. And he dreamed deep dim
dreams of those old days when men first rode from the West strong with
faith and eager with zeal, to found a kingdom of God.

Now men cut their neighbors' throats in the West and cried out
beneath the heels of ambitious kings and greedy popes, and in their
wars and crying out, forgot that thin frontier where the remnants of a
fading glory clung to their slender boundaries.

Through budding spring, hot summer and dreamy autumn, Red Cahal
rode--following a blind pilgrimage that led even beyond Jerusalem and
whose goal he could not see or guess. Ascalon he tarried in, Tyre,
Jaffa and Acre. He was visitor at the castles of the Military Orders.
Walter de Brienne offered him a part in the rule of the fading
kingdom, but Cahal shook his head and rode on. The throne he had never
pressed had been snatched beyond his reach and no other earthly glory
would suffice.

And so in the budding dream of a new spring he came to the castle
of Renault d'Ibelin beyond the frontier.



CHAPTER 3



The Sieur Renault was a cousin of the powerful crusading family of
d'Ibelin which held its grim gray castles on the coast, but little of
the fruits of conquest had fallen to him. A wanderer and adventurer,
living by his wits and the edge of his sword, he had gotten more hard
blows than gold. He was a tall lean man with hawk-eyes and a predatory
nose. His mail was worn, his velvet cloak shabby and torn, the gems
long gone from hilt of sword and dagger.

And the knight's hold was a haunt of poverty. The dry moat which
encircled the castle was filled up in many places; the outer walls
were mere heaps of crumbled stone. Weeds grew rank in the courtyard
and over the filled-up well.

The chambers of the castle were dusty and bare, and the great
desert spiders spun their webs on the cold stones. Lizards scampered
across the broken flags and the tramp of mailed feet resounded eerily
in the echoing emptiness. No merry villagers bearing grain and wine
thronged the barren courts, and no gayly clad pages sang among the
dusty corridors. For over half a century the keep had stood deserted,
until d'Ibelin had ridden across the Jordan to make it a reaver's
hold. For the Sieur Renault, in the stress of poverty, had become no
more than a bandit chief, raiding the caravans of the Moslems.

And now in the dim dusty tower of the crumbling hold, the knight
in his shabby finery sat at wine with his guest.

"The tale of your betrayal is not entirely unknown to me, good
sir," said Renault--unbidden, for since that night of drunkenness in
Damietta, Cahal had not spoken of his past. "Some word of affairs in
Ireland has drifted into this isolated land. As one ruined adventurer
to another, I bid you welcome. But I would like to hear the tale from
your own lips."

Cahal laughed mirthlessly and drank deeply.

"A tale soon told and best forgotten. I was a wanderer, living by
my sword, robbed of my heritage before my birth. The English lords
pretended to sympathize with my claim to the Irish throne. If I would
aid them against the O'Neills, they would throw off their allegiance
to Henry of England--would serve me as my barons. So swore William
Fitzgerald and his peers. I am not an utter fool. They had not
persuaded me so easily but for the Lady Elinor de Courcey, with her
black hair and proud Norman eyes--who feigned love for me. Hell!

"Why draw out the tale? I fought for them--won wars for them. They
tricked me and cast me aside. I went into battle for the throne with
less than a thousand men. Their bones rot in the hills of Donegal and
better had I died there--but my kerns bore me senseless from the
field. And then my own clan cast me forth.

"I took the cross--after I cut the throat of William Fitzgerald
among his own henchmen. Speak of it no more; my kingdom was clouds and
moonmist. I seek forgetfulness--of lost ambition and the ghost of a
dead love."

"Stay here and raid the caravans with me," suggested Renault.

Cahal shrugged his shoulders.

"It would not last, I fear. With but forty-five men-at-arms, you
can not hold this pile of ruins long. I have seen that the old well is
long choked and broken in, and the reservoirs shattered. In case of a
siege you would have only the tanks you have built, filled with water
you carry from the muddy spring outside the walls. They would last
only a few days at most."

"Poverty drives men to desperate deeds," frankly admitted Renault.
"Godfrey, first lord of Jerusalem, built this castle for an outpost in
the days when his rule extended beyond Jordan. Saladin stormed and
partly dismantled it, and since then it has housed only the bat and
the jackal. I made it my lair, from whence I raid the caravans which
go down to Mecca, but the plunder has been scanty enough.

"My neighbor the Shaykh Suleyman ibn Omad will inevitably wipe me
out if I bide here long, though I have skirmished successfully with
his riders and beat off a flying raid. He has sworn to hang my head on
his tower, driven to madness by my raids on the Mecca pilgrims whom it
is his obligation to protect.

"Well, I have another thing in mind. Look, I scratch a map on the
table with my dagger-point. Here is this castle; here to the north is
El Omad, the stronghold of the Shaykh Suleyman. Now look--far to the
east I trace a wandering line--so. That is the great river Euphrates,
which begins in the hills of Asia Minor and traverses the whole plain,
joining at last with the Tigris and flowing into Bahr el Fars--the
Persian Gulf--below Bassorah. Thus--I trace the Tigris.

"Now where I make this mark beside the river Tigris stands Mosul
of the Persians. Beyond Mosul lies an unknown land of deserts and
mountains, but among those mountains there is a city called Shahazar,
the treasure-trove of the sultans. There the lords of the East send
their gold and jewels for safekeeping, and the city is ruled by a cult
of warriors sworn to safeguard the treasures. The gates are kept
bolted night and day, and no caravans pass out of the city. It is a
secret place of wealth and pleasure and the Moslems seek to keep word
of it from Christian ears. Now it is my mind to desert this ruin and
ride east in quest of that city!"

Cahal smiled in admiration of the splendid madness, but shook his
head.

"If it is as well guarded as you, say, how could a handful of men
hope to take it, even if they win through the hostile country which
lies between?"

"Because a handful of Franks _has_ taken it," retorted d'Ibelin.
"Nearly half a century ago the adventurer Cormac FitzGeoffrey raided
Shahazar among the mountains and bore away untold plunder. What he
did, another can do. Of course, it is madness; the chances are all
that the Kurds will cut our throats before we ever see the banks of
the Euphrates. But we will ride swiftly--and then, the Moslems may be
so engaged with the Mongols, a small, hard-riding band might slip
through. We will ride ahead of the news of our coming, and smite
Shahazar as a whirlwind smites. Lord Cahal, shall we sit supine until
Baibars comes up out of Egypt and cuts all our throats, or shall we
cast the dice of chance to loot the eagle's eyrie under the nose of
Moslem and Mongol alike?"

Cahal's cold eyes gleamed and he laughed aloud as the lurking
madness in his soul responded to the madness of the proposal. His hard
hand smote against the brown palm of Renault d'Ibelin.

"Doom hovers over all Outremer, and Death is no grimmer met on a
mad quest than in the locked spears of battle! East we ride to the
Devil knows what doom!"

The sun had scarce set when Cahal's ragged servant, who had
followed him faithfully through all his previous wanderings, stole
away from the ruined walls and rode toward Jordan, flogging his shaggy
pony hard. The madness of his master was no affair of his and life was
sweet, even to a Cairo gutter-waif.

The first stars were blinking when Renault d'Ibelin and Red Cahal
rode down the slope at the head of the men-at-arms. A hard-bitten lot
these were, lean taciturn fighters, born in Outremer for the most
part--a few veterans of Normandy and the Rhineland who had followed
wandering lords into the Holy Land and had remained. They were well
armed--clad in chain-mail shirts and steel caps, bearing kite-shaped
shields. They rode fleet Arab horses and tall Turkoman steeds, and led
horses followed. It was the capture of a number of fine steeds which
had crystallized the idea of the raid in Renault's mind.

D'Ibelin had long learned the lesson of the East--swift marches
that went ahead of the news of the raid, and depended on the quality
of the mounts. Yet he knew the whole plan was madness. Cahal and
Renault rode into the unknown land and far in the east the vultures
circled endlessly.



CHAPTER 4



The bearded watcher on the tower above the gates of El Omad shaded
his hawk-eyes. In the east a dust cloud grew and out of the cloud a
black dot came flying. And the lean Arab knew it was a lone horseman,
riding hard. He shouted a warning, and in an instant other lean, hawk-
eyed figures were at his side, brown fingers toying with bowstring and
cane-shafted spear. They watched the approaching figure with the
intentness of men born to feud and raid.

"A Frank," grunted one, "and on a dying horse."

They watched tensely as the lone rider dipped out of sight in a
dry wadi, came into view again on the near side, clattered reelingly
across the dusty level and drew rein beneath the gate. A lean hand
drew shaft to ear, but a word from the first watcher halted the
archer. The Frank below had half-climbed, half-fallen from his reeling
horse, and now he staggered to the gate and smote against it
resoundingly with his mailed fist.

"By Allah and by Allah!" swore the bearded watcher in wonder. "The
Nazarene is mad!" He leaned over the battlement and shouted: "Oh, dead
man, what wouldst thou at the gate of El Omad?"

The Frank looked up with eyes glazed from thirst and the burning
winds of the desert. His mail was white with the drifting dust, with
which likewise his lips were parched and caked. He spoke with
difficulty.

"Open the gates, dog, lest ill befall you!"

"It is Kizil Malik--the Red King--whom men call The Mad,"
whispered an archer. "He rode with the lord Renault, the shepherds
say. Hold him in play while I fetch the Shaykh."

"Art thou weary of life, Nazarene," called the first speaker,
"that thou comest to the gate of thine enemy?"

"Fetch the lord of the castle, dog," roared the Gael. "I parley
not with menials--and my horse is dying."

The tall lean form of Shaykh Suleyman ibn Omad loomed among the
guardsmen and the old chief swore in his beard.

"By Allah, this is a trap of some sort. Nazarene, what do ye
here?"

Cahal licked his blackened lips with a dry tongue.

"When the wild dogs run, panther and buffalo flee together," he
said. "Doom rushes from the east on Moslem and Christian alike. I
bring you warning--call in your vassals and make fast your gates, lest
another rising sun find you sleeping among the charred embers of your
hold. I claim the courtesy due a perishing traveler--and my horse is
dying."

"It is no trap," growled the Shaykh in his beard. "The Frank has a
tale--there has been a harrying in the east and perchance the Mongols
are upon us--open the gates, dogs, and let him in."

Through the opened gates Cahal unsteadily led his drooping steed,
and his first words gained him esteem among the Arabs.

"See to my horse," he mumbled, and willing hands complied.

Cahal stumbled to a horse block and sank down, his head in his
hands. A slave gave him a flagon of water and he drank avidly. As he
set down the flagon he was aware that the Shaykh had come from the
tower and stood before him. Suleyman's keen eyes ran over the Gael
from head to foot, noting the lines of weariness on his face, the dust
that caked his mail, the fresh dints on helmet and shield--black dried
blood was caked thick about the mouth of his scabbard, showing he had
sheathed his sword without pausing to cleanse it.

"You have fought hard and fled swiftly," concluded Suleyman aloud.

"Aye, by the Saints!" laughed the prince. "I have fled for a night
and a day and a night without rest. This horse is the third which has
fallen under me--"

"Whom do you flee?"

"A horde that must have ridden up from the dim limbo of Hell! Wild
riders with tall fur caps and the heads of wolves on their standards."

_"Allah il Allah!"_ swore Suleyman. "Kharesmians!--flying before
the Mongols!"

"They were apparently fleeing some greater horde," answered Cahal.
"Let me tell the tale swiftly--the Sieur Renault and I rode east with
all his men, seeking the fabled city of Shahazar--"

"So that was the quest!" interrupted Suleyman. "Well, I was
preparing to sweep down and stamp out that robbers' nest when divers
herdsmen brought me word that the bandits had ridden away swiftly in
the night like the thieves they were. I could have ridden after, but
knew that Christians riding eastward but rode to their doom--and none
can alter the will of Allah."

"Aye," grinned Cahal wolfishly, "east to our doom we rode, like
men riding blind into the teeth of a storm. We slashed our way through
the lands of the Kurds and crossed the Euphrates. Beyond, far to the
east, we saw smoke and flame and the wheeling of many vultures, and
Renault said the Turkomans fought the Horde. But we met no fugitives
and I wondered then--I wonder not now. The slayers rode over them like
a wave out of the night and none was left to flee.

"Like men riding to death in a dream, we rode into the onrushing
storm and the suddenness of its coming was like a thunderbolt. A
sudden drum of hoofs over a ridge and they were upon us--hundreds of
them, a swarm of outriders scouting ahead of the horde. There was no
chance to flee--our men died where they stood."

"And the Sieur Renault?" asked the Shaykh.

"Dead!" said Cahal. "I saw a curved blade cleave his helmet and
his skull."

"Allah be merciful and save his soul from the hellfire of
unbelievers!" piously exclaimed Suleyman, who had sworn to kill the
luckless adventurer on sight.

"He took toll before he fell," grimly answered the Gael. "By God,
the heathen lay like ripe grain beneath our horses' hoofs before the
last man fell. I alone hacked my way through."

The Shaykh, grown old in warfare, visualized the scene that lay
behind that simple sentence--the swarming, howling, fur-clad horsemen
with their barbaric war cries, and Red Cahal riding like a wind of
Death through that maelstrom of flashing blades, his sword singing in
his hand as horse and rider went down before him.

"I outstripped the pursuers," said Cahal, "and as I rode over a
hill I looked back and saw the great black mass of the horde swarming
like locusts over the land, filling the sky with the clamor of their
kettledrums. The Turkomans had risen behind us as we had raced through
their lands, and now the desert was alive with horsemen--but the whole
east was aflame and the tribesmen had no time to hunt down a single
rider. They were faced with a stronger foe. So I won through.

"My horse fell under me, but I stole a steed from a herd watched
by a Turkoman boy. When it could do no more, I took a mount from a
wandering Kurd who rode up, thinking to loot a dying traveler. And now
I say to you, whom men dub the Watcher of the Trail--beware, lest
these demons from the east ride over your ruins as they have ridden
over the corpses of the Turkomans. I do not think they'll lay siege--
they are like wolves ranging the steppes; they strike and pass on. But
they ride like the wind. They have crossed the Euphrates. Behind me
last night the sky was red as blood. Hard as I have ridden, they must
be close on my heels."

"Let them come," grimly answered the Arab. "El Omad has held out
against Nazarene, Kurd and Turk--for a hundred years no foe has set
foot within these walls. _Malik_, this is a time when Christian and
Moslem should join hands. I thank you for your warning, and beg you to
aid me in holding the walls."

But Cahal shook his head.

"You will not need my help, and I have other work to do. It was
not to save my worthless life that I have ridden three noble steeds to
death--otherwise I had left my body beside Renault d'Ibelin. I must
ride on; Jerusalem is in the path of these devils, with its ruined
walls and scanty guard."

Suleyman paled and plucked his beard.

"Al Kuds! These pagan dogs will slay Christian and Muhammadan
alike, and desecrate the holy places!"

"And so," Cahal rose stiffly, "I must on to warn them. So swiftly
have these Kharesmians come that no word of their coming can have gone
into Palestine. On me alone the burden of warning lies. Give me a
fleet horse and let me go."

"You can do no more," objected Suleyman. "You are foredone--an
hour more and you would drop senseless from the saddle. I will send
one of my men instead--"

Cahal shook his head. "The duty is mine. Yet I will sleep an
hour--one small hour can make no great difference. Then I will fare
on."

"Come to my couch," urged Suleyman, but the hardy Gael shook his
head.

"This has been my couch before," said he, and flinging himself
down on the scanty grass of the courtyard, he drew his cloak about him
and fell into the deep sleep of utter exhaustion. Yet he slept but an
hour when he awoke of his own accord. Food and wine were placed before
him and he drank and ate ravenously. His features were still drawn and
haggard, but in his short rest he had drawn upon hidden springs of
endurance. An iron man in an age of iron, he added to his physical
ruggedness a dynamic nerve-energy that carried him beyond himself and
upheld him after more stolid men had dropped by the wayside.

As he reined out of the gates on a swift Arab steed, the watchmen
shouted and pointed to the east where a pillar of smoke billowed up
against the hot blue sky. The Shaykh flung up his arm in salute as
Cahal rode toward Jerusalem at a swinging gallop that ate up the
miles.

Bedouins in their black felt tents gaped at him; herdsmen leaning
on their staves stiffened at his shout. A rising drum of hoofs, the
wave of a mailed arm, a shouted warning, then the dwindling
hoofbeats--behind him the frenzied people snatched up their belongings
and fled shrieking to places of shelter or hiding.



CHAPTER 5



The moon was setting as Cahal splashed through the calm waters of
the Jordan, flecked with the mirrored stars. The sun was rising when
his horse fell at the gate of Jerusalem that opens on the Damascus
road. Cahal staggered up, half-dead himself, and gazing at the
crumbling ruins of the shattered walls, he groaned aloud. On foot he
hurried forward and a group of placid Syrians watched him curiously. A
bearded Flemish man-at-arms came forward, trailing his pike. Cahal
snatched a wine-flask that hung at the soldier's girdle and emptied it
at one draft.

"Lead me to the patriarch," he gasped throatily. "Doom rides on
swift hoofs to Jerusalem--ha!"

From the people a thin cry of wonder and fear had gone up--Cahal
wheeled and felt fear constrict his throat. Again in the east he saw
flying flame and drifting smoke--the gigantic tracks of the destroying
horde.

"They have crossed the Jordan!" he cried. "Saints of God, when did
men born of women ride so madly? They spurn the very wind--curst be
the weakness that made me waste a single hour--"

The words died in his throat as he looked at the ruined walls.
Truly, an hour more or less could have no significance in that doomed
city.

Cahal hurried through the streets with the soldier, and he saw
that already the word had spread like wildfire. Jews in their blue
shubas ran about howling; in the streets and on the housetops women
wrung their white hands and wailed. Tall Syrians bound their
belongings on donkeys and formed the nucleus of a disorderly horde
that streamed out of the western gates staggering under bundles of
household goods. The city crouched trembling and dazed with terror
under the threat rising in the east. What horde was sweeping upon them
they did not know, nor care; death is death, whoever the dealer.

Some cried out that the Tartars were upon them and both Moslem and
Nazarene shook. Cahal found the patriarch bewildered and helpless.
With a handful of soldiers, how could he defend the wall-less city? He
was ready to give up his life in the vain attempt; he could do no
more. The mullahs rallied their people, and for the first time in all
history Moslem and Christian joined forces to defend the city that was
holy to both. The great mass of the people fled into the mosques or
the cathedrals, or crouched resignedly in the streets, dumbly awaiting
the stroke. Men cried on Jehovah and on Allah, and some prophesied a
miracle that should deliver the Holy City. But in the merciless blue
sky no flaming sword appeared, only the smoke of the pillaging, the
flame of the slaughter, and at last the dust clouds of the riders.

The patriarch had bunched his pitiful force of men-at-arms,
knights, armed pilgrims and Moslems, at the Damascus Gate. Useless to
man the ruined walls. There they would face the horde and give up
their lives, without hope and without fear.

Cahal, his weariness half-forgotten in the drunkenness of
anticipated battle, reined beside the patriarch on the great red
stallion that had been given him, and cried out suddenly at the sight
of a tall, broad man on a rangy Turkish bay.

"Haroun, by all the Saints!"

The other turned toward him and Cahal wavered. Was this Haroun?
The fellow was clad in the mail shirt and peaked helmet of a Turkish
soldier. On his brawny right arm he bore a round spiked buckler and at
his belt hung a long broad scimitar, heavier by pounds than the
average Moslem blade. Moreover, Haroun had been clean-shaven and this
man wore the fierce curving mustachios of the Turk. Yet the build of
him--that square dark face--those blazing blue eyes--

"By the Saints, Haroun," said Cahal heartily, "what do you here?"

"Allah blast me if I be any Haroun," answered the soldier in a
deep growling voice. "I am Akbar the Soldier, come to Al Kuds on
pilgrimage. You have mistaken me for another."

Cahal frowned. The voice was not even that of Haroun, yet surely
in all the world there was not such another pair of eyes. He shrugged
his shoulders.

"Well, it is of no moment--where are you going?"

For the man had reined about.

"To the hills!" answered the soldier. "We can do no good by dying
here--best come with me. From the dust, it is a whole horde that is
riding upon us."

"Flee without striking a blow? Not I!" snapped Cahal. "Go, if you
fear."

Akbar swore loudly. "By Allah and by Allah! A man had better place
his head beneath an elephant's tread than call me coward! I'll stand
my ground as long as any Nazarene!"

Cahal turned away shortly, irritated by the fellow's manner and by
his boasting. Yet for all the soldier's wrath, it seemed to the Gael
that a vagrant twinkle lighted his fierce eyes as though he shook with
inward mirth. Then Cahal forgot him. A wail went up from the housetops
where the helpless people watched their oncoming doom. The horde had
swept into sight, up from the hazes of the Jordan's gorge.

The skies shook with the clamor of the kettledrums; the earth
trembled with the thunder of the hoofs. The headlong speed of the
yelling fiends numbed the minds of their victims. From the steppes of
high Asia these barbarians had fled before the Mongols like
thistledown flying before the wind. Drunken with the blood of
slaughtered tribes, ten thousand strong they surged on Jerusalem,
where thousands of helpless folk knelt shuddering.

Cahal saw anew the hideous figures which had haunted his half-
delirious dreams as he swayed in the saddle on that long flight: tall
rangy steeds on which crouched the broad forms of the riders in
wolfskins and mail--square dark faces, eyes glaring like mad dogs'
from beneath high fur caps or peaked helmets; standards with the heads
of wolves, panthers and bears.

Headlong they swept down the Damascus road--leaping their horses
over the broken walls, crowding through the ruined gates at breakneck
speed--and headlong they smote the clump of defenders which spurred to
meet them--smote them, broke them, shattered them, trampled them down
and under, and over their mangled bodies, struck the heart of the
doomed city.

Red hell reigned rampant in the streets of Jerusalem, where
helpless men, women and children ran screaming before the slayers who
rode them down, howling like wolves, spitting babes on their lances
and holding them on high like gory standards. Under the frenzied hoofs
pitiful forms fell writhing and blood flooded the gutters. Dark blood-
stained hands tore the garments from shrieking girls and lance-butts
shattered doors and windows behind which cowered terrified prey. All
objects of worth were ripped from their places and screams of agony
rose to the smoke-fouled heavens as the victims were tortured with
steel and fire to make them give up their pitiful treasures. Death
stalked howling through the streets of Jerusalem and men blasphemed
their gods as they died.

In the first irresistible flood of that charge, such defenders as
were not instantly ridden down had been torn apart and swept back in
utter confusion. The weight of the impact had swept Red Cahal's steed
away as on the crest of a flood, and he found himself reining about in
a narrow alley, where he had been tossed as a bit of driftwood is
flung into a back-eddy by a rushing tide. He had lost sight of the
patriarch and had no doubt that he lay among the trampled dead before
the Damascus Gate.

His sword was red to the hilt, his soul ablaze with the battle-lust,
his brain sick with fury and horror as the cries of the
butchered city smote on his ears.

"I'll leave my corpse before the Sepulcher," he growled, and
wheeling, spurred up the alley. He raced down a narrow winding street
and emerged upon the Via Dolorosa just as the first Kharesmian came
flying along it, scimitar dripping crimson. The red stallion's
shoulder brushed the barbarian's stirrup and Cahal's sword flashed
like a sunburst. The Kharesmian's head leaped from his shoulders on an
arch of crimson and the Gael yelped with murderous exultation.

And now came another riding like the wind, and Cahal saw it was
Akbar. The soldier reined in and shouted, "Well, good sir, are you
still determined to sacrifice both our lives?"

"Your life is your own--my life is mine!" roared Cahal, eyes
blazing.

He saw that a group of horsemen had ridden up to the Sepulcher
from another street and were dismounting, shouting in their barbaric
tongue, spattering the holy stones with blood-drops from their blades.
In a red mist of fury Cahal smote them as an avalanche smites the
pines. His whistling sword cleft buckler and helmet, severing necks
and splitting skulls; under the hammering hoofs of his screaming
charger, men rolled with smashed heads. And even in his madness Cahal
was aware that he was not alone. Akbar had charged after him; his
great voice roared above the clamor and the heavy scimitar in his left
hand crashed through mail and flesh and bone.

The men before the Sepulcher lay in a silent gory heap when Cahal
reined back and shook the bloody mist from his eyes. Akbar roared in a
strange tongue and smote him thunderously on the shoulders.

"_Bodga, bogatyr_!" he roared, his eyes dancing, and no longer
Cahal doubted that he was Haroun. "You fight like a hero, by Erlik!
But come, _malik_--you have offered a noble sacrifice to your God and
He'll hardly blame you for saving yourself now. Thunder of Allah, man,
we can not fight ten thousand!"

"Ride on," answered Cahal, shaking the red drops from his blade.
"Here I die."

"Well," laughed Akbar, "if you wish to throw away your life here
where it will do no good--that's your affair! The heathen may thank
you, but your brothers scarcely will, when the raiders smite them
suddenly! The horsemen are all dead or hemmed in the alleys. Only you
and I escaped that charge. Who will carry the news of the raid to the
Frankish barons?"

"You speak truth," said Cahal shortly. "Let us go."

The pair wheeled away and galloped down the street just as a
howling horde came flying up the other end. Beyond the shattered walls
Cahal looked back to see a mounting flame. He hid his face in his
hands.

"Wounds of God!" he groaned. "They are burning the Sepulcher!"

"And defiling the Al Aksa mosque too, I doubt not," said Akbar
tranquilly. "Well, that which is written will come to pass, and no man
may escape his fate. All things pass away, yes, even the Holy of
Holies."

Cahal shook his head, soul-sick. They rode through toiling bands
of fugitives who screamed and caught at their stirrups, but Cahal
steeled his heart. If he was to bear warning to the barons, he could
not be burdened by helpless ones.

The roar of pillage and slaughter faded into the distance; only
the smoke stood up among the hills, mute witness of the horror. Akbar
laughed gustily.

"By Allah!" he swore, smiting his saddlebow, "these Kharesmians
are woundy fighters! They ride like Tatars and slay like Turks! Right
well would I lead them into battle! I had rather fight beside them
than against them."

Cahal made no reply. His strange companion seemed to him like a
faun, a soulless fantastic being full of titanic laughter at all human
things--a creature outside the boundaries of men's dreams and
reverences.

Akbar spoke abruptly. "Here our roads part for a space, _malik_;
your road lies to Ascalon--mine to El Kahira."

"Why to Cairo, Akbar, or Haroun, or whatever your name is?" asked
Cahal.

"Because I have business with that great oaf, Baibars, whom the
devil fly away with!" yelled Akbar, and his shout of laughter floated
back above the hoof-beats.

It was hours later when Cahal, pushing his horse as hard as he
dared, met the travelers--a slender knight in full mail and vizored
helmet, with a single attendant, a big carle with a rough red beard,
who wore a horned helmet and a shirt of scale-mail and bore a heavy
ax. Something slumbering stirred in Cahal as he looked on that fierce
bluff face, and he reined in.

"Man, where have I seen you before?"

The fierce frosty eyes met him levelly.

"By Odin, that I can't say. I'm Wulfgar the Dane and this is my
master."

Cahal glanced at the silent knight with his plain shield. Through
the bars of the vizor, shadowed eyes looked at him--great God! A shock
went through Cahal, leaving him bewildered and shaken with a thousand
racing chaotic thoughts. He leaned forward, striving to peer through
the lowered vizor, and the knight drew back with an almost womanish
gesture of rebuke. Cahal reddened.

"I crave your pardon, sir," he said. "I did not intend this
seeming rudeness."

"My master has taken a vow not to speak or reveal his features
until he has accomplished his penance," broke in the rough Dane. "He
is known as the Masked Knight. We journey to Jerusalem."

Sorrowfully Cahal shook his head.

"No Christian may ride thither. The paynim from the outer steppes
have swept over the walls and the Holy of Holies lies in smoking
ruins."

The Dane's bearded mouth gaped.

"Jerusalem--taken?" he mouthed stupidly. "Why, good sir, that can
not be! How would God allow His Holy City to fall into the hands of
the infidels?"

"I know not," said Cahal bitterly. "The ways of God and His
infinite mercy are past my knowledge--but the streets of Jerusalem run
with the blood of His people and the Sepulcher is black with the
flames of the heathen."

Perplexed, the Dane tugged at his red beard and glanced at his
master, sitting image-like in the saddle.

"By Odin," he growled, "what are we to do now?"

"There is but one thing to be done," answered Cahal. "Ride back to
Ascalon and give warning. I was going thither, but if you will do this
thing, I will seek Walter de Brienne. Tell the Seneschal of Ascalon
that Jerusalem has fallen to heathen Turks of the outer steppes, known
as Kharesmians, who number some ten thousand men. Bid him arm for
war--and let no grass grow under your horses' hoofs in going."

And Cahal reined aside and took the road for Jaffa.



CHAPTER 6



Cahal found Walter de Brienne in Ramlah, brooding in the White
Mosque over the sepulcher of Saint George. Fainting with weariness the
Gael told his tale in a few stark bare words, and even they seemed to
drag leaden and lifeless from his blackened lips. He was but dimly
aware that men led him into a house and laid him on a couch. And there
he slept the sun around.

He woke to a deserted city. Horror-stricken, the people of Ramlah
had gathered up their belongings and fled along the road to Jaffa,
crying that the end of the world was come. But Walter de Brienne had
ridden north, leaving a single man-at-arms to bid Cahal follow him to
Acre. The Gael rode through the hollow-echoing streets, feeling like a
ghost in a dead city. The western gates swung idly open and a spear
lay on the worn flags, as if the watch had dropped their weapons and
fled in a sudden panic.

Cahal rode through the fields of date palms and groves of fig trees
hugging the shadow of the wall, and out on the plain he overtook
staggering crowds of frantic folk burdened with their goods and crying
with weariness and thirst. When the fugitives saw Cahal they screamed
with fear to know if the slayers were upon them. He shook his head,
pushing through. It seemed logical to him that the Kharesmians would
sweep on to the sea, and their path might well take them by Ramlah.
But as he rode he scanned the horizon behind him and saw neither
smoke-wrack nor dust cloud.

He left the Jaffa road with its hurrying throngs, and swung north.
Already the tale had passed like wildfire from mouth to mouth. The
villages were deserted as the folk thronged to the coast towns or
retired into towers on the heights. Christian Outremer stood with its
back to the sea, facing the onrushing menace out of the East.

Cahal rode into Acre, where the waning powers of Outremer were
already gathering--hawk-eyed knights in worn mail--the barons with
their wolfish men-at-arms. Sultan Ismail of Damascus had sent swift
emissaries urging an alliance--which had been quickly accepted.
Knights of St. John from their great grim Krak des Chevaliers,
Templars with their red skull-caps and untrimmed beards rode in from
all parts of the kingdom--the grim silent watchdogs of Outremer.

Survivors had drifted into Ascalon and Jaffa--lame, weary folk, a
bare handful who had escaped the torch and sword and survived the
hardships of the flight. They told tales of horror. Seven thousand
Christians, mostly women and children, had perished in the sack of
Jerusalem. The Holy Sepulcher had been blackened by flame, the altars
of the city shattered, the shrines burned with fire. Moslem had
suffered with Christian. The patriarch was among the fugitives--saved
from death by the valor and faithfulness of a nameless Rhinelander
man-at-arms, who hid a cruel wound until he said, "Yonder be the
towers of Ascalon, master, and since you have no more need o' me, I'll
lie me down and sleep, for I be sore weary." And he died in the dust
of the road.

And word came of the Kharesmian horde; they had not tarried long
in the broken city, but swept on, down through the deserts of the
south, to Gaza, where they lay encamped at last after their long
drift. And pregnant, mysterious hints floated up from the blue web of
the South, and de Brienne sent for Cahal O'Donnel.

"Good sir," said the baron, "my spies tell me that a host of
memluks is advancing from Egypt. Their object is obvious--to take
possession of the city the Kharesmians left desolate. But what else?
There are hints of an alliance between the memluks and the nomads. If
this be the case, we may as well be shriven before we go into battle,
for we can not stand against both hosts.

"The men of Damascus cry out against the Kharesmians for befouling
holy places--Moslem as well as Christian--but these memluks are of
Turkish blood, and who knows the mind of Baibars, their master?

"Sir Cahal, will you ride to Baibars and parley with him? You saw
with your own eyes the sack of Jerusalem and can tell him the truth of
how the pagans befouled Al Aksa as well as the Sepulcher. After all,
he is a Moslem. At least learn if he means to join hands with these
devils.

"Tomorrow, when the cohorts of Damascus come up, we advance
southward to go against the foe ere he can come against us. Ride you
ahead of the host as emissary under a flag of truce, with as many men
as you wish."

"Give me the flag," said Cahal. "I'll ride alone."

He rode out of the camp before sunset on a palfrey, bearing the
flag of peace and without his sword. Only a battle-ax hung at his
saddlebow as a precaution against bandits who respected no flag, as he
rode south through a half-deserted land. He guided his course by the
words of the wandering Arab herdsmen who knew all things that went on
in the land. And beyond Ascalon he learned that the host had crossed
the Jifar and was encamped to the southeast of Gaza. The close
proximity to the Kharesmians made him wary and he swung far to the
east to avoid any scouts of the pagans who might be combing the
countryside. He had no trust in the peace-token as a safeguard against
the barbarians.

He rode, in a dreamy twilight, into the Egyptian camp which lay
about a cluster of wells a bare league from Gaza. Misgivings smote him
as he noted their arms, their numbers, their evident discipline. He
dismounted, displaying the peace-gonfalon and his empty sword belt.
The wild memluks in their silvered mail and heron feathers swarmed
about him in sinister silence, as if minded to try their curved blades
on his flesh, but they escorted him to a spacious silk pavilion in the
midst of the camp.

Black slaves with wide-tipped scimitars stood ranged about the
entrance and from within a great voice--strangely familiar--boomed a
song.

"This is the pavilion of the amir, even Baibars the Panther,
_Caphar_," growled a bearded Turk, and Cahal said as haughtily as if
he sat on his lost throne amid his gallaglachs, "Lead me to your lord,
dog, and announce me with due respect."

The eyes of the gaudily clad ruffian fell sullenly, and with a
reluctant salaam he obeyed. Cahal strode into the silken tent and
heard the memluk boom: "The lord Kizil Malik, emissary from the barons
of Palestine!"

In the great pavilion a single huge candle on a lacquered table
shed a golden light; the chiefs of Egypt sprawled about on silken
cushions, quaffing the forbidden wine. And dominating the scene, a
tall broad figure in voluminous silken trousers, satin vest, a broad
cloth-of-gold girdle--without a doubt Baibars, the ogre of the South.
And Cahal caught his breath--that coarse red hair--that square dark
face--those blazing blue eyes--

"I bid you welcome, lord _Caphar_," boomed Baibars. "What news do
you bring?"

"You were Haroun the Traveler," said Cahal slowly, "and at
Jerusalem you were Akbar the Soldier."

Baibars rocked with laughter.

"By Allah!" he roared, "I bear a scar on my head to this day as a
relic of that night's bout in Damietta! By Allah, you gave me a woundy
clout!"

"You play your parts like a mummer," said Cahal. "But what reason
for these deceptions?"

"Well," said Baibars, "I trust no spy but myself, for one thing.
For another it makes life worth living. I did not lie when I told you
that night in Damietta that I was celebrating my escape from Baibars.
By Allah, the affairs of the world weigh heavily on Baibars'
shoulders, but Haroun the Traveler, he is a mad and merry rogue with a
free mind and a roving foot. I play the mummer and escape from myself,
and try to be true to each part--so long as I play it. Sit ye and
drink!"

Cahal shook his head. All his carefully thought out plans of
diplomacy fell away, futile as dust. He struck straight and spoke
bluntly and to the point.

"A word and my task is done, Baibars," he said. "I come to find
whether you mean to join hands with the pagans who desecrated the
Sepulcher--and Al Aksa."

Baibars drank and considered, though Cahal knew well that the
Tatar had already made up his mind, long before.

"Al Kuds is mine for the taking," he said lazily. "I will cleanse
the mosques--aye, by Allah, the Kharesmians shall do the work, most
piously. They'll make good Moslems. And winged war-men. With them I
sow the thunder--who reaps the tempest?"

"Yet you fought against them at Jerusalem," Cahal reminded
bitterly.

"Aye," frankly admitted the amir, "but there they would have cut
my throat as quick as any Frank's. I could not say to them: 'Hold,
dogs, I am Baibars!'"

Cahal bowed his lion-like head, knowing the futility of arguing.

"Then my work is done; I demand safe-conduct from your camp."

Baibars shook his head, grinning. "Nay, _malik_, you are thirsty
and weary. Bide here as my guest."

Cahal's hand moved involuntarily toward his empty girdle. Baibars
was smiling but his eyes glittered between narrowed lids and the
slaves about him half-drew their scimitars.

"You'd keep me prisoner despite the fact that I am an ambassador?"

"You came without invitation," grinned Baibars. "I ask no parley.
Di Zaro!"

A tall lank Venetian in black velvet stepped forward.

"Di Zaro," said Baibars in a jesting voice, "the _malik_ Cahal is
our guest. Mount ye and ride like the devil to the host of the Franks.
There say that Cahal sent you secretly. Say that the lord Cahal is
twisting that great fool Baibars about his finger, and pledges to keep
him aloof from the battle."

The Venetian grinned bleakly and left the tent, avoiding Cahal's
smoldering eyes. The Gael knew that the trade-lusting Italians were
often in secret league with the Moslems, but few stooped so low as
this renegade.

"Well, Baibars," said Cahal with a shrug of his shoulders, "since
you must play the dog, there is naught I can do. I have no sword."

"I'm glad of that," responded Baibars candidly. "Come, fret not.
It is but your misfortune to oppose Baibars and his destiny. Men are
my tools--at the Damascus Gate I knew that those red-handed riders
were steel to forge into a Moslem sword. By Allah, _malik_, if you
could have seen me riding like the wind into Egypt--marching back
across the Jifar without pausing to rest! Riding into the camp of the
pagans with mullahs shouting the advantages of Islam! Convincing their
wild Kuran Shah that his only safety lay in conversion and alliance!

"I do not fully trust the wolves, and have pitched my camp apart
from them--but when the Franks come up, they will find our hordes
joined for battle--and should be horribly surprized, if that dog di
Zaro does his work well!"

"Your treachery makes me a dog in the eyes of my people," said
Cahal bitterly.

"None will call you traitor," said Baibars serenely, "because soon
all will cease to be. Relics of an outworn age, I will rid the land of
them. Be at ease!"

He extended a brimming goblet and Cahal took it, sipped at it
absently, and began to pace up and down the pavilion, as a man paces
in worry and despair. The memluks watched him, grinning
surreptitiously.

"Well," said Baibars, "I was a Tatar prince, I was a slave, and I
will be a prince again. Kuran Shah's shaman read the stars for me--and
he says that if I win the battle against the Franks, I will be sultan
of Egypt!"

The amir was sure of his chiefs, thought Cahal, to thus flaunt his
ambition openly. The Gael said, "The Franks care not who is sultan of
Egypt."

"Aye, but battles and the corpses of men are stairs whereby I
climb to fame. Each war I win clinches my hold on power. Now the
Franks stand in my path; I will brush them aside. But the shaman
prophesied a strange thing--that a dead man's sword will deal me a
grievous hurt when the Franks come up against us--"

From the corner of his eye Cahal saw that his apparently aimless
strides had taken him close to the table on which stood the great
candle. He lifted the goblet toward his lips, then with a lightning
flick of his wrist, dashed the wine onto the flame. It sputtered and
went out, plunging the tent into total darkness. And simultaneously
Cahal ripped a hidden dirk from under his arm and like a steel spring
released, bounded toward the place where he knew Baibars sat. He
catapulted into somebody in the dark and his dirk hummed and sank
home. A death scream ripped the clamor and the Gael wrenched the blade
free and sprang away. No time for another stroke. Men yelled and fell
over each other and steel clanged wildly. Cahal's crimsoned blade
ripped a long slit in the silk of the tent-wall and he sprang into the
outer starlight where men were shouting and running toward the
pavilion.

Behind him a bull-like bellowing told the Gael that his blindly
stabbing dirk had found some other flesh than Baibars'. He ran swiftly
toward the horse-lines, leaping over taut tent-ropes, a shadow among a
thousand racing figures. A mounted sentry came galloping through the
confusion, firelight gleaming on his drawn scimitar. As a panther
leaps Cahal sprang, landing behind the saddle. The memluk's startled
yell broke in a gurgle as the keen dirk crossed his throat.

Flinging the corpse to the earth, the Gael quieted the snorting,
plunging steed and reined it away. Like the wind he rode through the
swarming camp and the free air of the desert struck his face. He gave
the Arab horse the rein and heard the clamor of pursuit die away
behind him. Somewhere to the north lay the slowly advancing host of
the Christians, and Cahal rode north. He hoped to overtake the
Venetian on the road, but the other had too long a start. Men who rode
for Baibars rode with a flowing rein.

The Franks were breaking camp at dawn when a Venetian rode
headlong into their lines, gasping a tale of escape and flight, and
demanding to see de Brienne.

Within the baron's half-dismantled tent, di Zaro gasped: "The lord
Cahal sent me, _seigneur_--he holds Baibars in parley. He gives his
word that the memluks will not join the Kharesmians, and urges you to
press forward--"

Outside a clatter of hoofs split the din--a lone rider whose
flying hair was like a veil of blood against the crimson of dawn. At
de Brienne's tent the hard-checked steed slid to its haunches. Cahal
leaped to the earth and rushed in like an avenging blast. Di Zaro
cried out and paled, frozen by his doom--till Cahal's dirk split his
heart and the Venetian rolled, an earthen-faced corpse, to Walter de
Brienne's feet. The baron sprang up, bewildered.

"Cahal! What news, in God's name?"

"Baibars joins arms with the pagans," answered Cahal.

De Brienne bowed his head.

"Well--no man can ask to live forever."



CHAPTER 7



Through the drear gray dusty desert the host of Outremer crawled
southward. The black and white standard of the Templars floated beside
the cross of the patriarch, and the black banners of Damascus billowed
in the faintly stirring air. No king led them. The Emperor Frederick
claimed the kingship of Jerusalem and he skulked in Sicily, plotting
against the pope. De Brienne had been chosen to lead the barons and he
shared his command with Al Mansur el Haman, warlord of Damascus.

They went into camp within sight of the Moslem outposts, and all
night the wind that blew up from the south throbbed with the beat of
drums and the clash of cymbals. Scouts reported the movements of the
Kharesmian horde, and that the memluks had joined them.

In the gray light of dawn, Red Cahal came from his tent fully
armed. On all sides the host was moving, striking tents and buckling
armor. In the illusive light Cahal saw them moving like phantoms--the
tall patriarch, shriving and blessing; the giant form of the Master of
the Temple among his grim war-dogs; the heron-feathered gold helmet of
Al Mansur. And he stiffened as he saw a slim mailed shape moving
through the swarm, followed close by a rough figure with ax on
shoulder. Bewildered, he shook his head--why did his heart pound so
strangely at sight of that mysterious Masked Knight? Of whom did the
slim youth remind him, and of what dim bitter memories? He felt as one
plunged into a web of illusion.

And now a familiar figure fell upon Cahal and embraced him.

"By Allah!" swore Shaykh Suleyman ibn Omad, "but for thee I had
slept in the ruins of my keep! They came like the wind, those dogs,
but they found the gates closed, the archers on the walls--and after
one assault, they passed on to easier prey! Ride with me this day, my
son!"

Cahal assented, liking the lean hearty old desert hawk. And so it
was in the glittering, plume-helmeted ranks of Damascus the Gael rode
to battle.

In the dawn they moved forward, no more than twelve thousand men
to meet the memluks and nomads--fifteen thousand warriors, not
counting light-armed irregulars. In the center of the right wing the
Templars held their accustomed place, in advance of the rest; five
hundred grim iron men, flanked on one side by the Knights of St. John
and the Teutonic Knights, some three hundred in all; and on the other
by the handful of barons with the patriarch and his iron mace. The
combined forces of their men-at-arms did not exceed seven thousand.
The rest of the host consisted of the cavalry of Damascus, in the
center of the army, and the warriors of the amir of Kerak who held the
left wing--lean hawk-faced Arabs better at raiding than at fighting
pitched battles.

Now the desert blackened ahead of them with the swarms of their
foes, and the drums throbbed and bellowed. The warriors of Damascus
sang and chanted, but the men of the Cross were silent, like men
riding to a known doom. Cahal, riding beside Al Mansur and Shaykh
Suleyman, let his gaze sweep down those grim gray-mailed ranks, and
found that which he sought. Again his heart leaped curiously at the
sight of the slim Masked Knight, riding close to the patriarch. Close
at the knight's side bobbed the horned helmet of the Dane. Cahal
cursed, bewilderedly.

And now both hosts advanced, the dark swarms of the desert riders
moving ahead of the ordered ranks of the memluks. The Kharesmians
trotted forward in some formation, and Cahal saw the Crusaders close
their ranks to meet the charge, without slackening their even pace.
The wild riders struck in the rowels and the dark swarm rolled swiftly
across the sands; then suddenly they shifted as a crafty swordsman
shifts. Wheeling in perfect order they swept past the front of the
knights and bursting into a headlong run, thundered down on the
banners of Damascus.

The trick, born in the brain of Baibars, took the whole allied
host by surprize. The Arabs yelled and prepared to meet the onset, but
they were bewildered by the mad fury and numbing speed of that charge.

Riding like madmen the Kharesmians bent their heavy bows and shot
from the saddle, and clouds of feathered shafts hummed before them.
The leather bucklers and light mail of the Arabs were useless against
those whistling missiles, and along the Damascus front warriors fell
like ripe grain. Al Mansur was screaming commands for a countercharge,
but in the teeth of that deadly blast the dazed Arabs milled
helplessly, and in the midst of the confusion, the charge crashed into
their lines. Cahal saw again the broad squat figures, the wild dark
faces, the madly hacking scimitars--broader and heavier than the light
Damascus blades. He felt again the irresistible concussion of the
Kharesmian charge.

His great red stallion staggered to the impact and a whistling
blade shivered on his shield. He stood up in his stirrups, slashing
right and left, and felt mail-mesh part under his edge, saw headless
corpses drop from their saddles. Up and down the line the blades were
flashing like spray in the sun and the Damascus ranks were breaking
and melting away. Man to man, the Arabs might have held fast; but
dazed and outnumbered, that demoralizing rain of arrows had begun the
rout that the curved swords completed.

Cahal, hurled back with the rest, vainly striving to hold his
ground as he slashed and thrust, heard old Suleyman ibn Omad cursing
like a fiend beside him as his scimitar wove a shining wheel of death
about his head.

"Dogs and sons of dogs!" yelled the old hawk. "Had ye stood but a
moment, the day had been yours! By Allah, pagan, will ye press me
close?--So! Ha! Now carry your head to Hell in your hand! Ho,
children, rally to me and the lord Cahal! My son, keep at my side. The
fight is already lost and we must hack clear."

Suleyman's hawks reined in about him and Cahal, and the compact
little knot of desperate men slashed through, riding down the snarling
wolfish shapes that barred their path, and so rode out of the red
frenzy of the melee into the open desert. The Damascus clans were in
full flight, their black banners streaming ingloriously behind them.
Yet there was no shame to be attached to them. That unexpected charge
had simply swept them away, like a shattered dam before a torrent.

On the left wing the amir of Kerak was giving back, his ranks
crumbling before the singing arrows and flying blades of tribesmen. So
far the memluks had taken no part in the battle, but now they rode
forward and Cahal saw the huge form of Baibars galloping into the
fray, beating the howling nomads from their flying prey and reforming
their straggling lines. The wolfskin-clad riders swung about and
trotted across the sands, reinforced by the memluks in their silvered
mail and heron-feathered helmets. So suddenly had the storm burst that
before the Franks could wheel their ponderous lines to support the
center, their Arab allies were broken and flying. But the men of the
Cross came doggedly onward.

"Now the real death-grip," grunted Suleyman, "with but one
possible end. By Allah, my head was not made to dangle at a pagan's
saddlebow. The road to the desert is open to us--ha, my son, are you
mad?"

For Cahal wheeled away, jerking his rein from the clutching hand
of the protesting Shaykh. Across the corpse-littered plain he galloped
toward the gray-steel ranks that swept inexorably onward. Riding hard,
he swept into line just as the oliphants trumpeted for the onset. With
a deep-throated roar the knights of the Cross charged to meet the
onrushing hordes through a barbed and feathered cloud. Heads down,
grimly facing the singing shafts that could not check them, the
knights swept on in their last charge. With an earthquake shock the
two hosts crashed together, and this time it was the Kharesmian horde
which staggered.

The long lances of the Templars ripped their foremost line to
shreds and the great chargers of the Crusaders overthrew horse and
rider. Close on the heels of the warrior-monks thundered the rest of
the Christian host, swords flashing. Dazed in their turn, the wild
riders in their wolfskins reeled backward, howling and plying their
deadly blades. But the long swords of the Europeans hacked through
iron mesh and steel plate, to split skulls and bosoms. Squat corpses
choked the ground under their horses' hoofs, as deep into the heart of
the disorganized horde the knights slashed, and the yells of the
tribesmen changed to howls of dismay as the whole battle-mass surged
backward.

And now Baibars, seeing the battle tremble in the balance,
deployed swiftly, skirted the ragged edge of the melee and hurled his
memluks like a thunderbolt at the back of the Crusaders. The fresh,
unwearied Bahairiz struck home, and the Franks found themselves hemmed
in on all sides, as the wavering Kharesmians stiffened and with a
fresh resurge of confidence renewed the fight.

Leaguered all about, the Christians fell fast, but even in dying
they took bitter toll. Back to back, in a slowly shrinking ring facing
outward, about a rocky knoll on which was planted the patriarch's
cross, the last host of Outremer made its last stand.

Until the red stallion fell dying, Red Cahal fought in the saddle,
and then he joined the ring of men on foot. In the berserk fury that
gripped him, he felt not the sting of wounds. Time faded in an
eternity of plunging bodies and frantic steel; of chaotic, wild
figures that smote and died. In a red maze he saw a gold-mailed figure
roll under his sword, and knew, in a brief passing flash of triumph,
that he had slain Kuran Shah, khan of the horde. And remembering
Jerusalem, he ground the dying face under his mailed heel. And the
grim fight raged on. Beside Cahal fell the grim Master of the Temple,
the Seneschal of Ascalon, the lord of Acre. The thin ring of defenders
staggered beneath the repeated charges; blood blinded them, the heat
of the sun smote fierce upon them, they were choked with dust and
maddened with wounds. Yet with broken swords and notched axes they
smote, and against that iron ring Baibars hurled his slayers again and
again, and again and again he saw his hordes stagger back, broken.

The sun was sinking toward the horizon when, foaming with rage
that for once drowned his gargantuan laughter, he launched an
irresistible charge upon the dying handful that tore them apart and
scattered their corpses over the plain.

Here and there single knights or weary groups, like the drift of a
storm, were ridden down by the chanting riders who swarmed the plain.

Cahal O'Donnel walked dazedly among the dead, the notched and
crimsoned sword trailing in his weary hand. His helmet was gone, his
arms and legs gashed, and from a deep wound beneath his hauberk, blood
trickled sluggishly.

And suddenly his head jerked up.

"Cahal! Cahal!"

He drew an uncertain hand across his eyes. Surely the delirium of
battle was upon him. But again the voice rose, in agony.

"Cahal!"

He was close to a boulder-strewn knoll where the dead lay thick.
Among them lay Wulfgar the Dane, his unshaven lip a-snarl, his red
beard tilted truculently, even in death. His mighty hand still gripped
his ax, notched and clotted red, and a gory heap of corpses beneath
him gave mute evidence of his berserk fury.

"Cahal!"

The Gael dropped to his knees beside the slender figure of the
Masked Knight. He lifted off the helmet--to reveal a wealth of unruly
black tresses--gray eyes luminous and deep. A choked cry escaped him.

"Saints of God! Elinor! I dream--this is madness--"

The slender mailed arms groped about his neck. The eyes misted
with growing blindness. Through the pliant links of the hauberk blood
seeped steadily.

"You are not mad, Red Cahal," she whispered. "You do not dream. I
am come to you at last--though I find you but in death. I did you a
deathly wrong--and only when you were gone from me forever did I know
I loved you. Oh, Cahal, we were born under a blind unquiet star--both
seeking goals of fire and mist. I loved you--and knew it not until I
lost you. You were gone--and I knew not where.

"The Lady Elinor de Courcey died then, and in her place was born
the Masked Knight. I took the Cross in penance. Only one faithful
servitor knew my secret--and rode with me--to the ends of the earth--"

"Aye," muttered Cahal, "I remember him now--even in death he was
faithful."

"When I met you among the hills below Jerusalem," she whispered
faintly, "my heart tore at its strings to burst from my bosom and fall
in the dust at your feet. But I dared not reveal myself to you. Ah,
Cahal, I have done bitter penance! I have died for the Cross this day,
like a knight. But I ask not forgiveness of God. Let Him do with me as
He will--but oh, it is forgiveness of you I crave, and dare not ask!"

"I freely forgive you," said Cahal heavily. "Fret no more about
it, girl; it was but a little wrong, after all. Faith, all things and
the deeds and dreams of men are fleeting and unstable as moonmist,
even the world which has here ended."

"Then kiss me," she gasped, fighting hard against the onrushing
darkness.

Cahal passed his arm under her shoulders, lifting her to his
blackened lips. With a convulsive effort she stiffened half-erect in
his arms, her eyes blazing with a strange light.

"The sun sets and the world ends!" she cried. "But I see a crown
of red gold on your head, Red Cahal, and I shall sit beside you on at
throne of glory! Hail, Cahal, chief of Uland; hail, Cahal Ruadh, _ard-
ri na Eireann_--"

She sank back, blood starting from her lips. Cahal eased her to
the earth and rose like a man in a dream. He turned toward the low
slope and staggered with a passing wave of dizziness. The sun was
sinking toward the desert's rim. To his eyes the whole plain seemed
veiled in a mist of blood through which vague phantasmal figures moved
in ghostly pageantry. A chaotic clamor rose like the acclaim to a
king, and it seemed to him that all the shouts merged into one
thunderous roar: _"Hail, Cahal Ruadh, ard-ri na Eireann!"_

He shook the mists from his brain and laughed. He strode down the
slope, and a group of hawk-like riders swept down upon him with a swift
rattle of hoofs. A bow twanged and an iron arrowhead smashed through
his mail. With a laugh he tore it out and blood flooded his hauberk. A
lance thrust at his throat and he caught the shaft in his left hand,
lunging upward. The gray sword's point rent through the rider's mail,
and his death-scream was still echoing when Cahal stepped aside from
the slash of a scimitar and hacked off the hand that wielded it. A
spear-point bent on the links of his mail and the lean gray sword
leaped like a serpent-stroke, splitting helmet and head, spilling the
rider from the saddle.

Cahal dropped his point to the earth and stood with bare head
thrown back, as a gleaming clump of horsemen swept by. The foremost
reined his white horse back on its haunches with a shout of laughter.
And so the victor faced the vanquished. Behind Cahal the sun was
setting in a sea of blood, and his hair, floating in the rising
breeze, caught the last glints of the sun, so that it seemed to
Baibars the Gael wore a misty crown of red gold.

"Well, _malik_," laughed the Tatar, "they who oppose the destiny
of Baibars lie under my horses' hoofs, and over them I ride up the
gleaming stair of empire!"

Cahal laughed and blood started from his lips. With a lion-like
gesture he threw up his head, flinging high his sword in kingly
salute.

"Lord of the East!" his voice rang like a trumpet-call, "welcome
to the fellowship of kings! To the glory and the witch-fire, the gold
and the moonmist, the splendor and the death! Baibars, a king hails
thee!"

And he leaped and struck as a tiger leaps. Not Baibars' stallion
that screamed and reared, not his trained swordsmen, not his own
quickness could have saved the memluk then. Death alone saved him--
death that took the Gael in the midst of his leap. Red Cahal died in
midair and it was a corpse that crashed against Baibars' saddle--a
falling sword in a dead hand, that, the momentum of the blow
completing its arc, scarred Baibar's forehead and split his eyeball.

His warriors shouted and reined forward. Baibars slumped in the
saddle, sick with agony, blood gushing from between the fingers that
gripped his wound. As his chiefs cried out and sought to aid him, he
lifted his head and saw, with his single, pain-dimmed eye, Red Cahal
lying dead at his horse's feet. A smile was on the Gael's lips, and
the gray sword lay in shards beside him, shattered, by some freak of
chance, on the stones as it fell beside the wielder.

"A hakim, in the name of Allah," groaned Baibars. "I am a dead
man."

"Nay, you are not dead, my lord," said one of his memluk chiefs.
"It is the wound from the dead man's sword and it is grievous enough,
but bethink you: here has the host of the Franks ceased to be. The
barons are all taken or slain and the Cross of the patriarch has
fallen. Such of the Kharesmians as live are ready to serve you as
their new lord--since Kizil Malik slew their khan. The Arabs have fled
and Damascus lies helpless before you--and Jerusalem is ours! You will
yet be sultan of Egypt."

"I have conquered," answered Baibars, shaken for the first time in
his wild life, "but I am half-blind--and of what avail to slay men of
that breed? They will come again and again and again, riding to death
like a feast because of the restlessness of their souls, through all
the centuries. What though we prevail this little Now? They are a race
unconquerable, and at last, in a year or a thousand years, they will
trample Islam under their feet and ride again through the streets of
Jerusalem."

And over the red field of battle night fell shuddering.



THE END




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