They had followed upward along what may once have been a trail, but for so long a time had it been unused, or so infrequently had it been used that it was scarce distinguishable from the surrounding brush; but below them now Ibn Jad saw at a short distance a better marked road and, beyond, what appeared to him a fortress. Beyond that again he glimpsed the battlements of Bohun’s castle.
What he saw in the foreground was the barbican guarding the approach to the castle and the city, both of which were situated in much the same relative position as were the barbican and castle upon the south side of the valley where Prince Gobred guarded the city of Nimmr and the valley beyond it against the daily expected assault of the Saracens.
Seeking cover, Ibn Jad and his Beduins crept down toward the barbican where an old knight and a few men-at-arms kept perfunctory ward. Hiding in the mountain brush the ’Aarab saw two strangely apparelled blacks hunting just outside the great gateway. They were armed with cross bows and arrows and their prey was rabbits. For years they had seen no stranger come down this ancient road, and for years they hunted between the gate and the summit of the mountains, though farther than this they were not permitted to wander. Nor had they any great desire to do so, for, though they were descendants of Gallas who lived just beyond this mountain top, they thought that they were Englishmen and that a horde of Saracens awaited to annihilate them should they venture too far afield.
Today they hunted as they had often hunted when they chanced to be placed in the guard at the outer barbican. They moved silently forward, warily awaiting the break of a rabbit. They did not see the dark-faced men in the brush.
Ibn Jad saw that the great gateway was open and that the gate that closed it raised and lowered vertically. It was raised now. Great was the laxity of the old knight and the men-at-arms, but King Bohun was away and there was none to reprove them.
Ibn Jad motioned those nearest him to follow and crept slowly closer to the gateway.
What of the old knight and the other watchers? The former was partaking of a late breakfast just within one of the great towers of the barbican and the latter were taking advantage of the laxity of his discipline to catch a few more winks of sleep as they stretched beneath the shade of some trees within the ballium.
Ibn Jad won to within a few yards of the gateway and waited for the others to reach his side. When they were all there he whispered to them and then trotted on silent sandals toward the gate, his matchlock ready in his hands. Behind him came his fellows. They were all within the ballium before the men-at-arms were aware that there was an enemy this side of Palestine.
With cross bow and battle-axe the men-at-arms sprang to defend the gate. Their cries of “The Saracens! The Saracens!” brought the old sir knight and the hunters running toward the ballium.
Below, at the castle of King Bohun, the men at the gates and the other retainers who had been left while Bohun sallied forth to the Great Tourney heard strange noises from the direction of the outer barbican. The shouts of men floated down to them and strange, sharp sounds that were like thunder and yet unlike it. Such sounds they had never heard before, nor any of their forbears. They rallied at the outer castle gate and the knights with them consulted as to what was best to be done.
Being brave knights there seemed but one thing open for them. If those at the far outer barbican had been attacked they must hasten to their defense. Summoning all but four of the knights and men-at-arms at his disposal the marshal of the castle mounted and rode forth toward the outer gate.
Half way there they were espied by Ibn Jad and his men who, having overcome the poorly armed soldiers at the gate, were advancing down the road toward the castle. At sight of these reinforcements Ibn Jad hastened to secrete his followers and himself in the bushes that lined the roadway. So it fell that the marshal rode by them and did not see them and, when they had passed, Ibn Jad and his followers came out of the bushes and continued down the winding mountain road toward the castle of King Bohun.
The men at the castle gate, now fully upon the alert, stood ready with the portcullis raised as the marshal instructed them, so that in the event that those who had ridden out should be hard pressed upon their return by an enemy at their rear they could still find sanctuary within the ballium. The plan was, in such event, to lower the portcullis behind the men of the Sepulcher and in the faces of the pursuing Saracens, for that an enemy must be such was a forgone conclusion—had not they and their ancestors waited for near seven and a half centuries now for this momentarily expected assault? They wondered if it really had come at last.
While they discussed the question Ibn Jad watched them from a concealing clump of bushes a few yards away.
The wily Beduin knew the purpose of that portcullis and he was trying to plan best how he might enter the enclosure beyond before it could be dropped before his face. At last he found a plan and smiled. He beckoned three men to come close and into their ears he whispered that which he had in mind.
There were four men-at-arms ready to drop the portcullis at the psychological moment and all four of them stood in plain sight of Ibn Jad and the three that were beside him. Carefully, cautiously, noiselessly the four ’Aarab raised their ancient matchlocks and took careful aim.
“Now!” whispered Ibn Jad and four matchlocks belched forth flame and black powder and slugs of lead.
The four men-at-arms dropped to the stone flagging and Ibn Jad and all his followers raced forward and stood within the ballium of the castle of King Bohun. Before them, across the ballium, was another gate and a broad moat, but the drawbridge was lowered, the portcullis raised and the gateway unguarded.
The marshal and his followers had ridden unhindered into the ballium of the outer barbican and there they had found all its defenders lying in their own blood, even to the little squire of the old knight who should have watched the gate and did not.
One of the men-at-arms still lived and in his dying breath he gasped the terrible truth. The Saracens had come at last!
“Where are they?” demanded the marshal.
“Didst thou not see them, sir?” asked the dying man. “They marched down the road toward the castle.”
“Impossible!” cried the marshal. “We didst but ride along that very road and saw no one.”
“They marched down toward the castle,” gasped the man.
The marshal knit his brows. “Were there many?” he demanded.
“There are few,” replied the man-at-arms. “It was but the advance guard of the armies of the sultan.”
Just then the volley that laid low the four warders at the castle gate crashed upon the ears of the marshal and his men.
“’Ods blud!” he cried.
“They must have hid themselves in the bush as we passed,” exclaimed a knight at the marshal’s side, “for of a surety they be there and we be here and there be but one road between.’”
“There be but four men at the castle gate,” said the marshal, “and I did bid them keep the ’cullis up ttil we returned. God pity me! I have given over the Sepulcher to the Saracens. Slay, me, Sir Morley!”
“Nay, man! We need every lance and sword and cross bow that we may command. This be no time to think of taking thy life when thou canst give it to Our Lord Jesus in defense of His Sepulcher against the infidels!”
“Thou art right, Morley,” cried the marshal. “Remain you here, then, with six men and hold this gate. I shall return with the others and give battle at the castle!”
But when the marshal came again to the castle gate he found the portcullis down and a dark-faced, bearded Saracen glaring at him through the iron bars. The marshal at once ordered the cross bowmen to shoot the fellow down, but as they raised their weapons to their shoulder there was a loud explosion that almost deafened them and flame leaped from a strange thing that the Saracen held against his shoulder and pointed at them. One of the cross bowmen screamed and lunged forward upon his face and the others turned and fled.
They were brave men in the face of dangers that were natural and to be expected, but in the presence of the supernatural, the weird, the uncanny, they reacted as most men do, and what could have been more weird than death leaping in flame and with a great noise through space to strike their fellow down?
But Sir Bulland, the marshal, was a knight of the Sepulcher.
He might wish to run away fully as much as the simple and lowly men-at-arms, but there was something that held him there that was more potent than fear of death. It is called Honor.
Sir Bulland could not run away and so he sat there on his great horse and challenged the Saracens to mortal combat; challenged them to send their doughtiest sir knight to meet him and thus decide who should hold the gate.
But the ’Aarab already held it. Futhermore they did not understand him. In addition to all this they were without honor as Sir Bulland knew it, and perhaps as any one other than a Beduin knows it, and would but have laughed at his silly suggestion.
One thing they did know—two things they knew—that he was a Nasrany and that he was unarmed. They did not count his great lance and his sword as weapons, for he could not reach them with either. So one of them took careful aim and shot Sir Bulland through his chain mail where it covered his noble and chivalrous heart.
Ibn Jad had the run of the castle of King Bohun and he was sure that he had discovered the fabled City of Nimmr that the sahar had told him of. He herded together the women and children and the few men that remained and held them under guard. For a while he was minded to slay them, since they were but Nasrany, but he was so pleased at having found and taken the treasure city that he let them live—for the time at least.
At his command his followers ransacked the castle in search of the treasure. Nor were they disappointed, for the riches of Bohun were great. There was gold in the hills of the Valley of the Sepulcher and there were precious stones to be found there, also. For seven and a half centuries the slaves of the Sepulcher and of Nimmr had been washing gold from the creek beds and salvaging precious stones from the same source. The real value of such was not to the men of the Sepulcher and Nimmr what it would be to men of the outer world. They but esteemed these things as trinkets, yet they liked them and saved them and even bartered for them on occasion, but they did not place them in vaults under lock and key. Why should they in a land where such things were not stolen? Their women and their horses they guarded, but not their gold or their jewels.
And so Ibn Jad gathered a great sack full of treasure, enough to satisfy the wildest imaginings of his cupidity. He gathered all that he could find in the castle of King Bohun, more than he had hoped to find in this fabled city; and then a strange thing happened. Having more wealth than he possibly could use he wanted more. No, not so strange after all, for Ibn Jad was human.
He spent the night with his followers in the castle of King Bohun and during the night he planned, for he had seen a wide valley stretching far away to other mountains and at the base of those mountains he had seen that which appeared to be a city. “Perhaps,” thought Ibn Jad, “it is a richer city than this. I shall start on the morrow to see.”