Castle Roland


by Arthur


Chapter 10

Posted: 7 Dec 15



Eventide and Mahmud were on the top of the walls watching the last of the enemy dead be carried away. They had seen the same work being carried out all through the night and now; during the early morning; they watched the last of the bodies disappear towards the far off pyres that burned to one side of the enemy encampment.

As they watched, a gate guard from the Eastern gate arrived with a message.

"My Kahlif, the Taureg have returned in force and ask to meet with you."

"Show their headman to the great hall and find food and drink for his men." Mahmud told the guard. The two boys left the wall and returned to the great hall to wait for their visitor. Even Mahmud was intrigued as to why the whole Taureg army would come back now; they had been a real force out on the wild sands.

The boys sat and waited on their chairs; it was not long before the Captain of the guard arrived with the four elder Taureg; one of them stepped forward and salaamed.

"Kahlif; I am Achmed Ben Sou and am the spokesman for our people. We have come to tell you that we must return to our homes. The time of the Khamsin is close and we wish to take our men and goods back before it strikes. We give you this promise that in sixty days we will return to help you drive the Infidel from our lands. As proof of my word, I will leave the one thing that I prize above all else as proof of our intention to return; I will leave my eldest son in your care."

Mahmud took up the reply; he was far more used to dealing with the Taureg than Eventide.

"Achmed Ben Sou; I am well aware that our peoples have not always been at peace; but what you and your men have done to slow the caravans of the Infidel tells me more than old enmities. As a sign of our trust in you and your men; we would not ask you to leave a son who is so valuable to your family. To show good intentions on our side; we will accept your word as spokesman that you and your men will return to help repel the Infidel when the Khamsin is over."

"That is very generous of the Kahlif; even though you are Bedou you show great trust in us and our word. We will return to help you fight the Infidel in sixty days; that is my word and the word of all Taureg."

The four Taureg salaamed and left the hall. Eventide turned to Mahmud and asked him.

"What is this fifty you were talking about?"

"Fifty? Oh yes, the Khamsin. While the word means fifty it also means the time of great sand storms. They last for fifty days on and off so hence the name. They are a terrible storm of hot wind and driving sand. Should you be caught out when it starts it can scour the very skin and meat off a man and leave only bones. I had forgotten the month and should have thought of it; if nothing else we will have the weather on our side for some time to come. I wonder if our enemies out on the plain know what is coming."

"Is it really that bad?"

"Oh yes my brother; if the Infidel do not take cover they will lose many men and horses to the Khamsin. It may be that the great winds do us a favour; we will have to wait and see."

Mahmud took over for the next few days as he set about readying the city for the first of the Khamsin. Out on the plains it was plainly obvious the enemy were again readying for another attempt on the walls.

The spies from the city had reported that more enemy troops were arriving daily and the army was now as great as it was at the beginning; there seemed no end to their reinforcements. The city got ready for another attack. The Trebuchet had been moved as close as they could get without being torn apart by the cross bows and their fire bolts.

Each day that new troops arrived to bolster the enemy numbers, so did more siege machines; the bombardments now continued day and night as those inside the walls took shelter from the rain of large rocks; it was fortunate the enemy had not returned to bringing up more catapults to throw the fire balls.

On the tenth day of the bombardment; the morning dawned still and silent; there was a feeling in the air that Eventide could not put his finger on; whether it was the total silence or the stillness; the city and plains felt eerie until a sudden hot blast of morning air swept over the eastern walls.

Eventide turned to the East as he felt the heated wind, what he saw made his mouth drop open and his heart quicken. The worry over the massed ranks of the enemy getting ready to charge the walls was forgotten as he looked to the East; even the cries and yells of the charging enemy could not pull his eyes away from the vision.

All around him Eventide could hear the men firing arrows and preparing for the ladder assault; the oil pots were at full heat and ready to be tipped as soon as the enemy soldiers hit the wall but Eventide's eyes were elsewhere; had it not been for one of the soldiers throwing up his shield to protect Eventide; the boy would have been skewered and yet he could not take his eyes off the red wall that was approaching the city at great speed; far faster than anything he had seen before.

Mahmud turned as he heard the roar from behind; without further thought; Mahmud called out as loud as he could to his troops.

"Khamsin, Khamsin; tip the pots and take cover below; forget the enemy, they will not survive to climb the walls."

Eventide could still not get the picture of the roiling mass of windswept sand that was higher than the very walls of the Wadhi from his mind; the roar of the wind now filled his ears and the first hot blast of sand drove him below the walls. The thousands of enemy soldiers attempting to take the wall was forgotten as he ran for cover.

Day turned to night as the full force of the massive sand wall hit the city; every man, woman and child had a covering over their mouth and nose as they ran for shelter in any building they could reach before the door closed.

Outside the walls the terrible sand storm hit the enemy troops who had seen the men run from the walls as they neared; their cries and yells of victory were soon blown away by the hot wind and sand filled air as their victory cries turned to ones of choking fear and desperation.

Ten thousand men had attacked the walls; less than a thousand made it back to the camp; most by sheer luck as they ran with the wind; many of them lost their sight as the terrible scouring sands blinded them.

In the encampment; the Knights and soldiers left there saw the huge storm coming and, those that could; took what cover they could in the short time they had available to them before the Khamsin hit with the force of a giant battering ram.

Tents were destroyed; animals ran wildly away to find cover where ever they could; banners were torn to shreds and nothing was left but waving strands. Paint was scoured from every surface whether metal or wood. The screams of hurt and dying men filled the air with their cries but it was hopeless; the Khamsin did not have favourites and the screams could not be heard above the roar of the wind; even the crashing of the Trebuchet as they were knocked over was not heard; many being broken as their towering size and weight crashed to the ground only to be scoured by the blasting sands.

Food and water supplies were destroyed or buried under the weight of the sand that was blowing through the plains; carts overturned or crashed into each other as the wind built until it deafened every man who could still make sense of anything. For those that survived it was to be talked about in hushed whispers many years later, as the most terrifying four hours they had ever experienced.

None of the enemy knew that this was just the first of many that were to come out of the southern desert although they did learn to prepare as best they could sometime later. Sixty thousand Christian soldiers and Knights had gathered to take Sufaria and; in one single sand storm they were cut to less than forty thousand; they had also lost nearly every cart with their food and water supplies. The tops of only three tents could be seen above the loose sand; the rest having been destroyed or totally buried.

It would be some time before the enemy would realise they had very few animals left; the city had been given a reprieve as it would take the enemy at least a month to recover from the beating they had taken at the hands of the Khamsin, but they did not have a month before the next one arrived.

Inside the city; once the sand storm had passed; everyone went about the business of clearing the streets of the mass of sand blown in by the wind; this was a yearly event and they knew just what had to be done. Eventide was worried for the men up on the top of the Wadhi and their large cross bows; had they had time to take cover or had they all been lost? It was Marchant that took some men with him to try for the small goat track and find his men.

Below the walls there was little to see of the attempt to win the city. Here and there were the remains of weapons, most half buried in the sand. Also partially buried were more bodies than could be counted; odd arms or legs stuck up out of the soft sand as well as a head here and there with blank staring eyes with faces that had been scoured to the bone by the sand.

Other indications of the fury of the Khamsin were the multiple piles of sand that indicated more buried bodies; for the first time, Eventide began to realise the power and finality of such sand storms.

A few days later the defenders could see more enemy soldiers arriving in the distance; there also seemed to be a lot of activity around the far off camp site. A few days later, the boys on top of the wall could see the beginnings of stone walls being built around the perimeter of the camp; the enemy had learned a lesson and were trying to prepare for the next storm.

The city had more than a few days of peace as the enemy tried to protect itself from any further storms; for the city people it was a time to make further preparations to solidify their defences. There had been a suggestion to leave the city in force and attack he enemy camp while they were disabled by the storms.

Eventide had talked against it; their numbers were too few to attack and any losses would eventually weaken the defence of the walls; Mahmud had finally agreed although it did not stop some of the brotherhood from going out to seek a little revenge on some of the weaker guard posts at night.

Marchant had returned to say they had not lost a single man from the top of the Wadhi although they had lost four cross bows; the men had had time to take cover and also tie down most of their machines; they were once again ready to defend the city from above.

Five days passed before the next indication of a coming storm. Out on the plain the enemy also took more notice of their surroundings and made preparations for what was coming; this time there would not be such a high loss of life when the storm hit.

While a number of Trebuchet had been destroyed by the first storm; the enemy soon had replacements and were once again trying to break down the tall strong walls; the long range made it more difficult for them to achieve it but they continued to try.

After the second storm had passed it was easy to see there was far less damage or loss of life; the enemy had learned its first lesson in desert living; it was to do them little good.

Over the next six weeks, nine more storms raged over the desert; the enemy had managed to build stone walls high enough to limit damage to their siege engines as there was no way to protect them once the storm hit, even though they tried many times to tie them down.

The fifty days of storms passed and the enemy was now ready to take the city. Out on the plains there was an army of seventy thousand; the Trebuchet had been pounding the walls at every chance but had failed to break through the solid stone ramparts; it was now time for troops to try to take the walls.

The first attack came early in the morning; the trenches now reached to no more than one hundred paces from the walls. Marchant's bowmen went into action and the defenders watched as the enemy ranks were cut to pieces as the long bows took a terrible toll, yet the enemy numbers did not slow.

Once the oil pots had been used it was then up to the pike men to push the ladders away and still the enemy came on like a swarm of angry ants.

The Trebuchet had been moved closer and the new cross bows began to range in on them and took a heavy toll of the siege machines before they could begin firing.

The fighting below the wall was now fierce and it soon became evident that the fighting would soon be hand to hand as more and more ladders were placed and enemy troops were well on the way to making the heights.

Eventide readied the mounted troops to charge through the gates as soon as needed; Mahmud controlled the defence of the wall and prepared his soldiers which also included almost every man and boy of the city to defend the walls; the order was given that no Infidel was to leave the walls alive.

High on the palace roof a black flag of Jihad was flown and the brotherhood also prepared to take their own revenge as they all slipped through the secret passage in the wall and made for the enemy camp.

The stench of battle soon filled the air as enemy bodies burnt under the hot oil fired by the arrows of Marchant's archers; others died as they tried to climb the tall ladders in the hope of entering the city; bowmen from the enemy fired their own arrows until they made even the desert sun dim in their volume.

The cries of the wounded and dying filled every man's ears as the slaughter continued unabated into the afternoon. Some made it to the top of the walls and were met by well armed defenders and were cut down as fast as they appeared over the wall.

At a prearranged signal from Mahmud; those holding the main gate suddenly pulled aside the huge timbers that held them closed. Eventide was at their head as he charged out surrounded by his six brothers and followed by two thousand horse and camel cavalry and right into the middle of the massed foot soldiers.

If he were asked at a later time what he remembered about the charge and fight; he would have to say that, after charging through the gate; everything became a blur of flashing swords and stabbing lances with the screams and yells of men fighting to the last.

The smell of blood and dust filled their nostrils and the crash of weapons on shields mixed with the sound of snapping bones as men fell under the hooves of the horses.

Having broken through the foot soldiers; the cavalry then turned and came back at the troops from behind to again cause mayhem in the enemy ranks.

As they fought, Eventide kept an ear out for the agreed signal; as soon as he heard the high trumpet note, Eventide called for his cavalry to return to the city and close the gates; the enemy Knights had been sighted coming to the aid of the foot soldiers and were after Eventide's cavalry; they could not afford to be caught out in the open against heavy Knights.

The cavalry returned to the city and the great gates closed with some difficulty as they had to push back those foot soldiers that had got through during the cavalry charge.

With the gates closed and secure; Eventide went to find Mahmud who was still fighting up on the wall. The heavy smell of blood inside the city told Eventide they had not had it easy during his charge; they had managed to ease the pressure on the walls but there was still work to be done.

The end came most unexpectedly; loud calls from out on the plain soon had the attackers pulling back; the wall had been held, but at a cost. Eventide could not think of why the enemy had pulled back when they were in sight of getting the walls and entering the city; there could only be one reason for the sudden retreat.

When he reached the top of the wall he could see only carnage; ignoring his own two wounds; he went in search of Mahmud; he found his brother stooped over three young boys who lay together in death; around the trio were ten dead enemy soldiers.

Eventide could hear the sobs from Mahmud as he looked down at the three boys; all around there was death and blood but they had held the wall.

"What happened to them?" Eventide asked his brother; whom he also noticed was bleeding from a gash in one arm.

"They got cut off when the enemy came over the wall but they stood back to back and took as many enemy as they could with them; we tried to get to them but the fighting was just too heavy to break through. Their names will be written in the book of the dead and they shall be held up as heroes; their families will be richly rewarded for their loss. The boys showed no fear, even though they knew they were about to die in defence of our city."

"We need to make sure they are honoured as all the dead should be. How do you fare? You are bleeding and need to see a physician.

Mahmud looked at his brother and gave him a small smile.

"So are you; come let's go together while the walls are cleared."

Mahmud gave orders for the enemy dead to be pitched over the wall and for their own to be given respect and taken to a place where they could be cared for and readied for burial.

When the two boys got back to the palace; they were surprised to see the members of the brotherhood waiting for them; they had returned from the plains and looked as though their mission had been a success. A physician was called to attend the boy's wounds while they got all the reports from the battle.

They were happy to learn that the brotherhood had managed to fully salt the water pond at the outlet in the fissure; it would take more than ten weeks for the water to wash all the heavy salt blocks from the reservoir; the enemy would now be in trouble as their water would have to be rationed at a bare minimum; there would also be deaths from the thirst.

The salting had been a last resort to weaken the enemy; it was not as bad as a total poisoning and would eventually clear but, by then it was hoped the enemy army would be in dire straits.

The mass attack had caused many deaths and injuries on the defenders but they had held the city; the losses to the enemy was estimated to be higher than ten to one but, the enemy army had far more troops available to them than the limited number in the city.

While they could still hold the walls; the two Kahlif hoped that the Emir was closer to helping them with reinforcements; two more mass attacks like the last one and the safety of the city would be in doubt.

Marchant had lost two hundred more archers and was now down to only five hundred plus the fifty high up on the wall; their best defence turned out to be the new cross bows; they were devastating in close combat and could kill five or six men with one bolt; the enemy siege shields were also torn to splinters when they were hit.

Below the walls the enemy dead were stacked up like cord wood and the heavy smell of blood and the detritus that went along with it; it would not be long before the stench of the dead would create a miasma of bad air throughout the city.

Mahmud called for more oil to fill the many pots on the wall; they would then pour it over the dead and set fire to them; at least that way the smell would only last as long as the burning bodies lasted in the intense heat and then would clear the air somewhat.

As the time of the Khamsin passed; the arrival of the Taureg brought some relief. The two Kahlif were thankful to see more than three thousand of the desert raiders arrive at the eastern gate; they now had a mobile force that could do real damage to the long drawn out supply trains of the enemy.

As soon as the Taureg arrived; Mahmud asked for Achmed Ben Sou to see them in the great hall. When the man arrived with his now ten headmen; Mahmud got down to the task of setting out their plan.

"Achmed Ben Sou; we are very pleased to see your return; it was never in doubt you would hold to your word and we both thank you for that. As you can see we had a hard time of it in your absence but we have held the walls; we would ask if you would continue with your previous plan. The effects on the enemy were very noticeable and we would have no hesitation in agreeing to the same conditions of the last time; if that was to your satisfaction."

"Thank you Kahlif; it would indeed be suitable for all of us. If you both wish it we now have the numbers to attack the carts with the siege weapons if you would like us to do this?"

"It would indeed be a great help if you would attempt it, but we call for care as the enemy is using heavy Knights in some of their supply trains; I will leave it up to your own judgement. Is there anything we can do for you and your men?"

"We will fill our goat skins and then be on our way; we have many young men who want to test their skills in battle. I will send messengers when I can with our reports. May Allah watch over your city and bring victory over the Infidel."

"Thank you Achmed Ben Sou; you and your men's names will be written in the book of Sufaria as valued allies and saviours of the city."

The older man salaamed and left with his other chiefs; it was now up to the defenders of the city to hold the walls and keep the enemy from the gates; not an easy task after the last mass attack.

Two days later and a messenger arrived at the Eastern gate with an urgent message for Shaitan Bin Izurak. Eventide had the messenger shown to the palace immediately.

Eventide called for Mahmud as the messenger walked into the great hall; in his hand he carried a thick rolled parchment with the seal of Lancaster holding it closed; it was a message from his father.

Once Mahmud had joined him; Eventide opened the roll of parchment and read it out for his brother; it was not what they expected.

My son,

The valiant defence of your city has made it to us and the King is mightily pleased that you held it so well and proved your worth as a commander of his ally the Emir.

Your missive to the Pope has had unexpected results; far from obeying your request for him to remove his troops; he formed a great army and attempted to invade your homeland with the use of Knights and foot soldiers from Normandy, Brittany, Anjou, Aquitaine and many others; he also used many Knights from the Spanish lands as well as his own.

An army of fifty thousand men attempted to land on the beaches of Hythe but we had been forewarned and were prepared for them. As they landed from their ships, the King's new archers appeared on the high cliffs above the beaches; I was impressed to also see more than two thousand men of the reaches also appear to aid the archers; their effect was devastating and the Knights of England had a lighter battle than had we not had the archers.

The king's army caused the enemy to lose more than 2/3rds of their number without getting past the cliffs and they had no option but to retreat in haste and despair; we are sure they will not venture our way again.

The valiant defence and toll you have been taking on the army of the crusade is no doubt the cause of their lacking enough numbers to push through with their plans. The King has asked me to pass on to you this news.

On your return to England he will present you with the title, banner and coat of arms as a full Knight and you will carry title as the Defender and Knight of the King's Banner; I know you will be happy to have even more titles to use and how much you enjoy them to be placed on your head.

My son, hold your ground and use that head of yours as you would, there are reinforcements on the way and should be with you in ten days.

Your Father Freeman.

Eventide rolled up the parchment and looked at Mahmud; the look on his face said it all.

"That's all I need brother, more titles; will it never end?"

"Not for you Brother, now I like the sound of reinforcements; it appears the Emir has his army ready; we have to hold now; it would not do for a newly made Knight to fail his King."

"Don't you even go there Brother; another word about titles and I will go and join the enemy."

The two boys laughed as they looked over the sand map laid out on the floor; it had been kept up as each day passed and now looked as though someone had drawn a detailed picture of every rock or grain of sand outside the walls.

The young men of the brotherhood still went out each night to spy on the enemy encampment; their reports each morning that the lack of drinkable water had begun to take its toll on the enemy troops, were good to hear. That the enemy would mount another attack there was no doubt; they were now getting to a situation where it would be a case of do or die to take the city. The two boys were sure that by now they would be aware of the renewed attacks on their supply trains.

It was fully twelve days when they saw the enemy massing for another attempt on the walls; the reports from their night time spies told them the enemy was in dire need of water and the only water fresh enough for drinking was inside the city.

It was two hours before the middle of the day when the trumpets on the wall called the men to arms. The two boys took their places as before; Mahmud on the wall and Eventide at the gate with the remains of their cavalry.

On the wall, Mahmud looked around; he was surprised to see that nearly half his men and boys carried bandages from previous wounds yet they stood ready once more to repel the enemy; he was heartened by the look of fierce determination on all the faces.

The Trebuchet were still firing their heavy rocks at the walls and Marchant's cross bows took toll; the Trebuchet had been moved even closer this time to try to break through; there were many places where the wall was showing signs of damage but not enough to bring them down as yet.

As Eventide sat waiting for his chance to attack outside the gate with his cavalry; he heard a call from Mahmud to come and look on top of the wall. Eventide dismounted and ran for the steps leading up to where Mahmud waited for him. Once there, Eventide saw what concerned Mahmud.

They were now down to only three pots of oil and they had been placed above the gates but out on the plains was where the real problem lay.

It looked as though the enemy was going to throw every man they had at the walls; there were also four battering rams waiting to pound at the gates; the three pots would not stop them all.

The massed heavy armoured Knights were also now closer to the rear lines of foot soldiers; there was no way that Eventide's light cavalry would be able to attack outside without the chance of losing every man; new plans had to be made and made quickly.

The two boys got their heads together and quickly came up with a plan hoping it was enough. The portcullis would be dropped and locked tight; thirty archers of the camel cavalry would dismount and take their place behind the thick stone walls of the passage and fire into any enemy that made it through the gates. The rest of the cavalry would now take a place on the walls and fight from there.

As the final plan was put into action; a voice called from the ground; turning to look down, both boys got a surprise. The man calling them looked like a shop keeper; in his hands he carried a farmers scythe; behind him it looked as though every man, woman and child of the city that was not already on the walls; was armed in some form and ready to fight to defend the city. Mahmud called for the man to come up.

The man arrived a little breathless but had a very determined look on his face.

"My lords; the people wish to join the fight to defend the city; if it will be of help we will hold the gate while you use your trained men to hold the wall."

"Do you know there will be deaths for all of you if the enemy breaks through the portcullis?"

"If they break through, My Lord, then we will be dead anyhow; we have all agreed to fight and try to save our city."

"Then you are welcome; hold your people at the ready but do not advance on the gate unless they break through; the portcullis is strong and should hold them unless they can get a ram through the passage."

The man salaamed and left to organise his rag tag army of citizens while the two boys looked out at the massive army coming towards them; the heavy thud of the cross bows told the two the enemy was now at five hundred paces and closing.

At four hundred paces, the order was given for the remaining five hundred archers to open fire. Although their numbers were now halved; the long bowmen took a great toll without answer from the enemy bowmen; they were still out of range for their smaller bows.

The Trebuchet continued to fire at the gates as fire bolts from the cross bows high up on the cliff began to take its own toll of the heavy machines. The cross bows on the wall were now targeting the heavy siege shields and the enemy troops were falling like chaff under a scythe.

The enemy knights were now within range but their heavy armour partially protected them from the cloud of arrows filling the sky; while they did have losses from the long bowmen; their heavy armour protected far more than those who fell; it would have been suicide to attack outside the walls with the armoured Knights so close to the foot soldiers.

After only a few minutes the plain was littered with the dead and dying but they came on as though it was nothing. The enemy was now only two hundred paces from the walls and their bowmen could now reply to those above; Marchant's archers were now taking casualties as the torrent of arrows flew over the walls.

The enemy archers far outnumbered those on the wall; while their bows were smaller; their volume made up for the lack of range. The boys troops came forward with their shields to try to protect their archers from the fire below; it proved to save many lives but still their archers were being whittled down and Eventide called for them to pull back from the parapet as the enemy was now too close for effective fire.

The men up on the wall now waited for the inevitable; it had come to the stage of hand to hand fighting as the first ladders were heard to hit the stone wall; above the gate the first two pots were tipped down onto the gathering troops and the shielded ram; the fire that was raised by the oil would keep the gate safe for a little while longer and the enemy would have to clear the ground before bringing up another ram.

Eventide watched the approaching enemy; it seemed that every thirty men carried one of the long ladders used to breach the walls; if any fell, other men would pick it up and race towards the foreboding wall before them.

It appeared the enemy was making this a final all out assault as it looked as though every man in the enemy camp was now racing towards them.

The siege had now been going on for the better part of six months; there had been small skirmishes and larger fights; they had endured three other attempts on the wall but this one looked as though it was all or nothing.

The long ladders began to land on the wall and the pike-men pushed them off only to see more take their place. The first ram was now under a sea of fire and yet, the next was already trying to push through to pound the gate; it appeared to be rolled over the bodies of those already fallen; the enemy was now desperate.

As the last pot of oil poured onto the heads of those pushing the ram; the first enemy climbed over the top of the wall; it was now hand to hand and a sense of desperation was on both sides.

Mahmud took defence to the right as Eventide took all those he could call to the left; the battle for Wadhi Sufaria was now really on.

Like Mahmud; Eventide had changed his clothes to that of the Hashin; his face was covered by the black scarf and he carried a smaller round metal shield along with his scimitar; his six brothers close by his side as they began to try to repel the climbers.

The battle for the walls was torrid and nasty; every weapon or dirty trick was used to stay alive. They had given little as far as space on the wall but the enemy was still pressing hard even as they were thrown from the high walls, others took their place. It was an unending fight to the death for the defenders while the attackers were relatively fresh from their climb and battle.

The gate was now under threat as the third ram started to pound on the thick wooden barricade to their entrance into the city. Out on the plain; the Knights were pressing their men to fight harder as they pushed them forward; the smell of death was now forgotten as was the cries of the wounded and dying as the defenders strived to hold the wall.

Both the young Kahlif and their men were now hard pressed as more and more of the enemy made it over the wall; every soldier in the city was now up on top of the walls except for those archers waiting for the gate to give so they could fire into any who made in into the passage that was barred by the portcullis.

Eventide had no idea how long they had been fighting but the sun was now past meridian; both he and Mahmud had sustained minor wounds but they went unnoticed in the furore of battle and the desperation of holding on to the city.

None of the defenders saw the gates burst open under the barrage from the ram; fortunately the portcullis held and both hidden archers and city folk fought to defend it; the battle below the wall was to be just as vicious as the one on top.

Relief came in the most unexpected way. Far out on the plains, the first indication of something not being right was the sign of heavy black smoke coming from the far off enemy camp; in the middle of the hectic and dangerous battle; Eventide noticed a sudden increase in arrows falling down onto the enemy ranks.

A quick glance to the top of the cliffs gave Eventide a moment to smile. Lining the top of the cliff were now more than two thousand archers wearing the colours of the Emir; the rain of arrows from the new archers soon began to take a heavy toll on those below the walls.

Taking a moment from the close battle; Eventide glanced out onto the plains just in time to see a sight that made him tighten his grip on the scimitar and turn back to the battle with a renewed vigour.

Far behind the enemy ranks and thundering across the flat plain were thousands of heavy mounted Knights; at their head flew the banner of Lancaster along with many others of the English Knights. Alongside of them rode rank after rank of lighter camel and horse cavalry in an all out charge at the rear of the enemy; help had arrived just in time.

A single call to Mahmud and the other defenders caused them to look out on the plain; what they all now saw seemed to suddenly make every defender grow in strength; those of the enemy that had gained the parapets had no idea why the defenders seemed to suddenly grow stronger instead of weaker.

Mahmud then received a message from the Eastern gate; the Emir's foot soldiers were less than an hour away and would be here soon.

With their renewed hope; the defenders attacked with everything they had; below them the enemy felt the first rattling charge of heavy English Knights as they rode into the rear of the enemy ranks and caught the enemy Knights unprepared; they had been so focussed on the fight for the wall they had not seen the approaching danger behind them.

The true slaughter began as the heavy English Knights tore into the rear of the unprepared Crusaders; the lighter cameleers and horsemen by passed the heavy Knights and set upon the footmen with a savagery that had never been seen before by any soldier.

High on the walls the fight was now swinging to the defenders as they found a new hope and strength; with less and less reinforcements coming up the ladders; the defenders moved forward and began to push the attackers back to the very edge of the parapets; unfortunately for Eventide he did not see it.

Turning just as he heard a loud yell from a badly wounded Ishmael; Eventide felt a sharp pain on his head and blackness took him out of the fight; he was not to see the final result of the valiant stand of the defenders.

There was a strange fuzziness in Eventide's head as he tried to open his eyes. His thoughts were jumbled as he heard faint mumblings far off and everything he saw was like through a mist. Slowly things began to clear as he heard a soft groan from someone; it took a moment before he realised it was his voice.

Eventide tried to lift his head as those in the room became clearer; everyone there he recognised except for a very young boy with a nasty gash in his cheek that was roughly stitched closed. Mahmud stood behind the boy with one hand on his shoulder.

The first voice he heard was the familiar deep tone of Freeman; it was soon followed by the clipped and precise voice of the Emir.

"How do you feel, my son?"

"Father! What happened?"

"Ishmael sacrificed his own life to save you from a soldiers cut at your head; he took the slash and pushed you away but the soldier managed to hit you with the hilt of his sword. He was about to kill you with another thrust when this young boy jumped in front; he took your dagger and killed the soldier but got a bad slash for his valour, You owe him your life my son."

Eventide looked at the young boy; he could not have been more than ten or eleven summers yet he had stepped forward to defend his fallen Kahlif with his life. Eventide swore then and there that the boy would be well rewarded for his heroism. Eventide looked at the boy and asked.

"Where are your parents; I would like to thank them for raising such a brave and courageous son?"

The boy bowed his head and, in a soft whisper replied.

"They are both dead My Kahlif; they fell defending the gate, now I have no one."

"Then you will join my house; I would not see such a brave boy left to his own devices. Brother; will you see he has anything he needs until I can get back on my feet; give him a room close to my own. Were there any others lost in the fight for the walls that should be here?"

"Both Ishmael and Mohammad were lost in the last few minutes; they will be given a true burial according to the laws of the Hashin."

"How many did we lose?"

"Too many; there were two thousand lost and three thousand wounded; also we lost some seven hundred of the city folk who held the gate. Marchant is badly wounded but should make a full recovery but the damage to his left arm may make it difficult for him to hold a bow again. The Emir has promised him his place for life if he wished so he can continue to train more archers; he will also be given his own palace in Damascus as a part of his reward."

Eventide could almost feel a tear fall from his eye as he heard the number lost in the many battles; especially the last and final battle.

"Father, how did you make it here with your Knights?"

"I am here on the King's orders and at the request of the Emir. When we won the battle at Hythe, the King sent me immediately here to aid the Emir as he is one of the King's most valued allies. The fact you were here also made it easier for me to hurry. I am very proud of you for what you have done; I knew that day in the tavern that you were special and now you have proven it once again. Now my son, it is time for you to rest; tomorrow will be time to talk more, so now just rest."

Eventide was suddenly hit with a tiredness he didn't realise was there. He did not argue with his father's advice but lay back and let his eyes close once again; now the city was safe he could take the time to heal; he had seen the bloody bandage on Mahmud and hoped his very special brother would also take the same advice and rest.

It was late in the evening when Eventide felt better and was able to leave his bed; his head still throbbed but he no longer felt as though his stomach was going to turn inside out. The dizzy feeling had left him and he slowly rose from the bed to empty his bladder; four servants and two slaves waited for him with a hot bath.

As he sank into the hot water a feeling of renewal came over him now that he was able to rid himself of the grimy clothes and the hot water began to flush away the grime and smell of battle.

Once he finished washing and the slaves had dried him off; he let one of the servants replace the old bandage around his head and the other two that were on wounds he did not even know he had during the battle. One was a shallow slice across his ribs and the other was the older one in his upper arm.

Eventide was not surprised to see that the older men were still seated at the table in the great hall. Around them were many men who had been responsible for the defence of the city as well as many English Knights; a quick glance told Eventide the celebrations had been going on for some time. It was the Emir, Saed Ben Haman that was the first to see Eventide enter the great hall.

The Emir's voice was loud as he saw Eventide.

"Welcome Kahlif, defender of the city; come and take your place of honour beside your brother Kahlif; it is time we recognised your great feat and showered you with gifts and praise as is befitting one who held our city."

Blushing wildly, Eventide made his way to the main table and tried to ignore the cheers and calls of everyone in the hall; as he sat down beside Mahmud, he asked.

"Where is the young boy?"

"His name is Faisal; he is in his bed; the hour is late. Did you want to see him?"

"No, tomorrow will be soon enough, I just had a thought when I was bathing but now I have the time to ask your advice and that of my father before a final decision."

"A wise choice my brother; never make decisions on an empty stomach; come eat and drink; we have done our duty and it is a time to celebrate."

Eventide did not know if it was the wine or his injuries that caused him to stagger as he made his way to bed in the early hours of the morning; all he knew was that he was ready for sleep and fell onto the bed without removing his clothes. To find himself naked in bed when he awoke in the late hours of the next morning was a surprise but he put it aside as he felt his head spin and his stomach start to rebel as he moved to rise.

When next he opened his eyes it was to see the young boy sitting by his bedside waiting for him to open his eyes; the boys name was some time in coming to his mind as he tried to clear way the fog.

"Uhm...Faisal, is that right?"

"Yes my Lord; what do you wish for me to do?"

"Could you call the servants to ready a bath for me?"

"Yes my Lord."

"Have you eaten and washed yet?"

"I have eaten with the servants my Lord."

"The servants? Well that's going to change just as soon as I have bathed and changed."

The boy ran out of the room and then returned quickly with a number of servants who immediately set about getting hot water for his bath; he needed to clear his head; it had been a bad idea to celebrate so soon after his injuries; it was another lesson learned.

After his bath and a change of clothes; Eventide went to look for his father; there was important business to do and no time to waste.

Eventide found his father sitting with the Emir as the two old friends were discussing the defence of the city; they were the only two in the large hall as Eventide entered.

It took little time to get the agreements he was hoping for and the rest of the time was spent in working on what honours there should be for all the defenders and who should be marked for special attention.

Eventide was also happy to learn that; after he had been knocked out; the enemy had been totally routed and; while many escaped, many were also captured amongst them many Knights who would be put up for ransom; the ordinary soldiers would be enslaved after being put to work restoring parts of the city while in chains.

After the meeting, Eventide returned to his palace; once there he called for all his servants and slaves to be assembled in the main hall.

When all were assembled; Eventide looked them over with a critical eye; with very few words, Eventide selected two of the Moorish slaves and one servant; they were told that their duties were now only to the welfare of Faisal and his words were to be obeyed as those of Eventide. Eventide almost smiled at the shocked look on the boys face; he wondered what the look would be later in the evening when the truth was revealed for all.

The scene was now set for the great feast for their victory; at this time the Emir would present honours and rewards for all those who fought to hold the city; it would also be the time that Eventide would reveal his plan for a certain young, parentless boy.

The true celebration of victory could not take place inside the walls; there were just too many people for that. The Emir had given orders for the celebrations to be taken outside the walls where every man, woman, child and soldier could gather as one force.

When Eventide rode Shaitan through the battered gates, he could not believe his eyes; while he had seen the beginning of the charge of the reinforcements; he had not seen the full effect or numbers as he had been struck down at the crucial stage.

As Eventide rode through the gates; a loud roar of cheering went up from the masses assembled outside.

"SHAITAN...SHAITAN! Echoed out over the desert plain as he rode towards the huge black tent set up in the middle of the mass of tents of the army.

Beside Eventide rode Shaun; now with a new coloured banner; all the others were carried by members of the brotherhood; the absence of Ishmael and Mohammad weighed heavily on his shoulders.

Eventide dismounted in front of the large tent and was guided to the place of honour beside Mahmud. Eventide could not even guess at the numbers gathered out on the plain but there appeared to be men from every Saracen tribe that roamed the desert.

Under the huge canopy that had been set up for the Emir and his friends; Eventide saw that even the most feared Taureg had been given a special place at the Emir's side. No sooner had Eventide sat beside his brother Mahmud than a trumpet sounded and a sudden hush came over the thousands gathered to celebrate.

The Emir rose and strode to the front of the canopy where he could be seen by all; in a voice that seemed to gather power from the very sands of the desert; the Emir began his speech.

"Men and women of the desert; we have all fought many battles; both with each other and the Infidel. Some we have won and some, we have lost but; here, we have fought the most important of all for we have turned back the Infidel at the very gates of Wadhi Sufaria; the gateway to the Eastern trade routes. There has never been a more important place than this in our history. I am here to offer rewards to those who stood and fought and those who came to our aid when it was truly needed. While there are many rewards to be given to every man, woman or child that stood against the Infidel and the men and boys of every tribe that came here with the army; none are more important than those that should go to the ones who held the city for six months without help or aid."

The Emir paused to sip from a cup before continuing.

"I would call for Achmed Ben Sou of the Taureg to come before me."

The tall middle aged Taureg stood and came to the front of the canopy to stand before the Emir; from the thousands of Taureg gathered out on the plain came the high pitched ululation that was common with the men of the desert.

"Achmed Ben Sou; I know that there has been many generations of dissention between our people and that sometimes the personal feuds have taken lives that would be better used to further our tribes. I now decree that no Bedou will from this day forward; lift a weapon against the Taureg. The bounty you have gained from the raids on the Infidel caravans are yours by right of conquest. As spokesman for the Taureg; I would offer you the title of Kahlif of the Taureg and hold a place in the court for you should you wish to fill it."

Achmed Ben Sou salaamed and returned to his place under the canopy while the Emir continued.

"For the people of Wadhi Sufaria; without your valiant defence of the gate we would surely have been lost; as reward for your efforts and for the losses you suffered; I decree that you shall not have to pay tithe or taxes for two years so that you may rebuild your city. Those who died shall have their names written into the book of the dead of Wadhi Sufaria and read out as heroes on each day that commemorates the battle each year. Further I decree that each family member that stood at the gate should be given ten gold pieces to help rebuild your homes."

Again the Emir took a sip from his cup before continuing. As he called the officers of the defenders to come forward; he presented them with promotions and gold coin. After all was done and he had taken another sip from his cup; the Emir looked around before calling for the next rewardee.

"I would ask Faisal Hadan to step forward."

There was a sudden hush as everyone watched the young boy walk from the back of the crowd. Faisal salaamed to the Emir; it did not go unnoticed by those close by that the boy had a deep but healing slash on his young cheek.

"Let it be written, that Faisal Hadan is now to be known as the Hero of Wadhi Sufaria. At the risk of his own life he stood alone over the body of Shaitan Bin Izurak with nothing more than a dagger to protect his fallen Kahlif. Even after taking a cut from the enemy's sword he still stood and took the life of the attacker. Faisal also lost every member of his family as they helped defend the gates. As a reward for all he has sacrificed I award him one hundred gold coins and his family home is to be restored and his family business is to be free of all taxes and tithes for the remainder of his life."

There was a total silence as everyone watched the young boy stand with tears falling from his eyes; the Emir grasped the boys shoulder to try to help ease the pain of his loss before continuing.

"There is one other thing but for this we will have to wait for Shaitan Ben Izurak to state."

The Emir steered Faisal to a place under the canopy with all the more important men that sat there. The Emir then called for the next men he wanted to reward.

"Kahlif Mahmud Sal A Hadin and Kahlif Shaitan Bin Izurak, I would ask you to come forward."

The two boys stood from their place and went to stand before the Emir.

"There is little I can reward you with that you do not already have; saying that I can only ask you what you would want for your defence of Sufaria. In all our history there was never a braver defence shown by any man or city. For six months you held the Infidel at bay and allowed us to form a new army to come to your aid. Even though you had little reinforcements you never stopped in your duty and your feat will be written into the history of Wadhi Sufaria. I would ask you to name your reward."

Mahmud was the first to answer.

"Your Highness; I ask only that you give my brother, Shaitan Bin Izurak and his request your full support; that would be my reward for doing my duty."

"Shaitan Bin Izurak; what do you ask?"

"Your Highness, I would ask that the Hero of Wadhi Sufaria; Faisal Hadan; be allowed to consider my offer of becoming my brother. I have talked with my father and he has agreed that Faisal would be welcomed into our home as an equal and; if he agrees he would be given the titles and name under the Lancaster banner. For myself I ask nothing as I was doing my duty as Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria."

"Faisal Hadan; do you wish to take that which is offered to you and become the true brother of Shaitan Bin Izurak?"

Everyone watched as the young boy broke out in tears; Eventide rushed to his side and hugged him close; as far as he was concerned; the boy had lost everything and Eventide felt he deserved the chance of a new family; Faisal whispered something to Eventide and then returned the hug. Eventide turned to the Emir.

"Your Highness; Faisal Hadan; Hero of Sufaria, agrees to become my brother in name and title."

"By my decree; Faisal Hadan is now brother to Shaitan Bin Izurak and all that entails. There is now only one more reward that should be offered. To our valiant allies; the Knights of England and our ally the King; I present to you all, Ten chests of gold to be divided up among you all as a token of our thanks for your valued reply to our request for aid. That will be all, let us celebrate until the sun rises."

A loud cheer rang out over the plains as the celebrations began in earnest. The next morning the plains looked like a battle field with drunken men sleeping out in the open like so much cord wood; all that was missing was the heavy smell of blood to make it real.

The heat of the rising sun soon got men moving from their celebration stupor; it was going to be a long slow day for most of them as they tried to get over their head aches and the night of sleeping on the sand in their drunkenness.

Eventide awoke to another body in his bed; trying not to move his head to fast as it still felt tender from the night before; he glanced down at the body. A smile came over him as he saw Faisal cuddled up to him still fast asleep.

The red gash of his wound looked better and gave the small boy a fearsome look but Eventide knew that the new brother was just a small boy with no one else to watch over him. For the first time in his life, Eventide had a brother and the feeling of family began to take on a new meaning.

Two months later found Eventide and his new brother riding towards the castle of Tremaine in Lancaster. For Faisal it was the first time to travel out of his homeland; everything he saw brought questions and Eventide was only too glad to answer every one with patience and in detail.

The coldness of England and the almost continual rain had Faisal marvel at so much rain falling non-stop; it was a marvel he would never have seen at home. It was eventually the cold that almost made him change his mind; while the desert could be cold at night; this was the kind that he could not have imagined in his wildest dreams.

It was no surprise to eventide that Faisal decided to spend a lot of time huddled close to a roaring fire when given the opportunity.

The two boys would stay in England for another year and one more Squires Melee before they would once again travel back to the desert for Eventide's duty to Sufaria. It was the agreed time that Eventide would spend one year with Freeman and one year as Kahlif and that Faisal would go everywhere with him as a little brother should.

Freeman organised for Faisal to learn the English language as well as other lessons. After some discussion with Eventide; Freeman told Faisal that when Freeman passed away; Eventide would take over the lands of Lancaster and Faisal would be given his holdings in Flanders. The young boy could not believe what he was hearing but his wonder was soon put to rest as his new big brother nodded in agreement.

It now seemed that all was good in the world with a new little brother and his first real battle won; Eventide felt he was finally home. There were now only new adventures to be had but he was sure that with the new family and his many friends; all would be well.


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