King Kegan sighed. “They’re all gone. Now it’s
our turn.” He looked at his group, which included his wife, Queen Sarmantha,
his wizard, Zerahemna, several of his guards, and Alroy Cathmore. Alroy had
studied the maps and plotted out their course. They wanted to avoid going
anywhere near Zanaad, so they chose to go north into Europe and cross to the
west before heading to the land of the Scots. The Queen longed to see
Jerusalem, Constantinople, Athens and Rome. Her husband made no promises,
He would do his best to let her see the places she so desired. There was to
be no hurry. He wanted to take his wife’s mind off their missing daughters.
A handful of guards had been advised of the planned route and sent ahead as
Kegan had regretted his parent’s choice to stay behind in Burill, but he
understood their needs. When they pointed out that they’d be a hindrance,
Kegan had given in and left them behind, with a promise that once he
settled, he’d send a boat for them, knowing fully well in his heart that
he’d never see them again. The first step was the most difficult, but after
that gusto for adventure flowed through his body and he plodded on, never
Alroy showed them the map. “We head for southern
Arabia and keep to the Red Sea coastline. We must be careful to avoid the
main road where we risk be recognized by traders.” All agreed and let Alroy
take the lead. Kegan trusted his wisdom completely.
* * *
“They are not going to Zanaad,” Isud said. “What
should we do, Aghilas?”
“King Dugan ordered us to follow them. I say
that is what we should do. I don’t want to return to Zanaad empty handed, do
you?” The other two shook their heads. “The king will be joyful and reward
us when we return with Kegan’s final destination. We will stay with them.”
Each night when they stopped, Alroy would sit by
the fire and write in his book about the day’s events. The trek along the
southern coast was uneventful. They took time to fish and swim in the sea’s
warm waters. The guards took turns going into villages to purchase local
foods, wine, and other needed supplies.
They turned north and crossed the Sinai, continuing to the Holy Land. After
changing into common man’s clothing, they stood in front of one of the gates
of Jerusalem. The ancient city had come under Islamic rule many centuries
before, but some of the old city of King Solomon still stood. Sarmantha wept
as her gaze swept along the surrounding stone walls and towers. Jerusalem
had been completely destroyed, along with the temples, at least twice,
except for a small portion of wall where the Christians and Jews visited
regularly. Minarets dominated the skyline, the slender towers reaching for
the clouds. Muslims had invaded the once Christian land, destroying their
most sacred place, the Holy Sepulchre.
“It has always been my dream to come here. We
are standing at Dung gate.” Sarmantha saw a golden plaque on the wall. “I’ve
heard so much about Jerusalem. I would like to see all of the gates. May we
“I’m not sure if it is safe, but give me a few
minutes to look around. You stay here with Zerahemna and Alroy. Guards, come
with me. Ask questions. See if there are any inns where we might find a
place to rest a few nights.”
Zerahemna led Sarmantha and Alroy to the well
just outside the gates. None of them recognized Aghilas, Idus and Usem, who
nervously stood next to them, drinking from a wooden cup. A half an hour
later Kegan returned, a grin spread across his face. “Come. I have found us
a place to stay. We will be safe as long as we don’t cause problems. The
Turks are bloodthirsty, but we should have no difficulties with them. You
can spend some time walking around, Sarmantha, as long as one of us is with
you.” Kegan led his wife and the others through the massive wooden gate.
The narrow streets were lined with stalls of vendors, each anxious to sell
their olive wood carvings, scarves, leather goods, delicacies and more. The
aroma of smoke mingled with roasted lamb, over-ripe melons, peaches and
bananas embraced them as Kegan and his group passed by. Men shouted, trying
to bring attention to their wares. Kegan waved his hand and continued on his
way. Sarmantha smelled familiar spices and some she didn’t recognize. Most
of the items for sale had been readily accessible in Burill, though there
were some fabrics she longed to touch. The queen purchased olive wood
carvings and blue glass beads on their way.
A view of the Dome of the Rock stood ahead.
Sarmantha watched as the new conquerors oppressed the former inhabitants,
chasing them out with whips, forcing them to find another place to live.
None of Sarmantha’s group weren’t used to the prayer calls and were
surprised and delighted as the chants echoed through the city. They knew
their time in the holy city would be educational. Alroy told them how the
Turks had recently captured the city and would more than likely have control
for the next few decades.
Kegan and the guards kept together and stayed
inconspicuous. They reached the inn and went directly to their rooms. The
guards were in one room, Zerahemna and Alroy were in another and the king
and queen shared a room.
* * *
“What should we do, Aghilas? We cannot enter through the gates of Jerusalem.
There is much danger there,” Usem said, horrified at the thought. “The Turks
have raided the land and they imprison anyone they choose for no reason.”
“Let us move with caution, follow them and see what they do. Kegan has
surely heard the news of the wars in this area and yet he went inside,
taking his wife with him.” Aghilas looked at the wall. “I know a man who
lives within these walls. We will go directly to Wiwul’s house and make
plans. He will let us stay with him for a price.” Aghilas patted the gold in
Aghilas, Idus and Usem waited until a crowd of camel herders trotted through
the gate and follow them in. “We need a plan,” Aghilas whispered.
“What sort of a plan?” Usem snickered.
“Do you think I’m going to let Kegan and his entourage travel without giving
them some sort of misery? I plan to make this journey as difficult for them
as I can. I have a few ideas.” Aghilas laughed out loud. “Here we are.” He
knocked on a wooden door. It opened and there stood an aged woman. “Where is
She glanced at the others and disappeared back inside, closing the door. The
three men stood waiting. A few minutes passed and the door opened once
again. The same elderly woman spoke. “Go away. He is not here. Wiwul is
dead.” She started to close the door.
Usem stuck his foot in to block the way. “What do you mean? When did he
The old woman glanced at the three men. “The Turks hung him last week. Go
away. You attract attention.” She slammed the door on Usem’s foot. He pulled
it out, clenching his teeth. “Your friend is dead, Aghilas. Now what?”
“We find somewhere else to sleep.” Aghilas walked away, expecting the other
two to follow. After knocking on every inn in Jerusalem and finding them all
full, they ended up sharing a stall in a stable with two goats.
“So much for your friends,” Idus smirked.
After a horrid night’s sleep, pulling goat wool off their clothes and being
urinated on, Aghilas and his fellow guards were in anything but a good mood.
“That’s it! Today we will get even with Kegan for forcing us to sleep with
“It wasn’t his fault, Aghilas. If you have to blame it on someone, blame it
on the Turks. They’re the ones who killed Wiwul.” Usem sighed and picked hay
from his hair.
“Tonight we will show them.” Aghilas went in search of something to eat and
ended up with pistachio nuts drenched in honey. As the three ate he sneered.
“I know what we will do. When they retire for the night, we will attack.”
“What? What is your plan?” Idus couldn’t wait to hear.
Aghilas simply pointed at a stack of barrels.
“Ah. I understand.” Usem grinned. “We’ll hide in the empty barrels until
they have fallen asleep, sneak into their rooms through the open windows and
slit their throats.”
“Don’t be a fool.” Aghilas slapped Usem. “We’re not here to kill them. Let’s
use this time to find lodging for tonight. I could not bear to sleep another
night among animals.”
* * *
Sarmantha and Alroy spent the day touring the city. The Turks left them
alone, noticing her fine apparel and jewels. Kegan and the guards crept
through the dark alleys, seeking other opportunities for escape in case
something went wrong. When the sun set, they met at the inn and feasted on
an assortment of figs, oranges and roasted chickens.
“Now’s our chance,” Aghilas said. They slunk over to the barrels and pried
the lid off one. “It is full of wine.”
“Let’s just pour it out.” Idus cupped his hands and scooped some of the red
wine. “This is fine wine, too good to waste.” He slurped another handful.
“Try some, Aghilas, Usem.” Before they knew it, the three lay drunk,
sprawled next to the half empty barrel.
Zerahemna had waited until the others were asleep before he left. He wanted
to explore the city on his own, certain areas where common people weren’t
allowed. After walking down a few darks streets, he came upon the drunken
guards. He moved to walk around them, but at that moment Idus reached up and
grabbed Zerahemna’s robe. “Let go of my rope, you drunken sot.”
Idus slurred his words. “You’re the wizard from Burill.”
Zerahemna squatted in front of the wine-breathed man. “And how do you know
The other two didn’t stir. “I know because I know. You see, my
friends and I…my friends and I…”
“Where are you from, you and your friends?” Zerahemna rolled Usem over.
“This one is in a drunken sleep.”
“I am from, we are from, Zanaad. Could you hand me my pig please?” Idus
leaned up on his elbows. “Where’s my pet pig? His gaze moved from side to
side. “Wait a minute. I don’t have a pig.”
Zerahemna helped lay Idus down. “Go to sleep. I’ll find your pig and bring
it to you.”
“Thank you,” Idus spat and then passed out.
“So, we are being followed by some Zanaad guards. They don’t look like much
of a threat to me. Perhaps I should teach them a lesson.” Zerahemna mumbled
a spell and the three sleeping men floated through the air behind him. When
he neared the inn, he pulled a few lids off some barrels of honey and
dropped the guards inside. He sealed the lids up and went back to his room,
a rewarding grin on his face. The wizard made the decision to keep the
appearance of the enemy’s guards to himself for the time being.
Aghilas was the first to wake up and find
himself in a dark sticky place. “Where am I? Idus? Usem?” Soft muffled
sounds came from nearby. Pushing his hands through the thick goo, Aghilas
felt the wooden slats. “I’m in a barrel.” He licked his fingers. “A barrel
of honey.” Panic soared through him. “Get me out of here. Get me out of
here!” He pounded the lid above his head. It flew off and he stood, dripping
from head to toe with the amber-colored honey. Moans came from two nearby
barrels. Aghilas slid out of his sticky prison and lifted the lids off the
other two. “Get out of there, Idus. Usem, come on.” The three guards were
baffled, trying to figure out how they ended up in honey. “It doesn’t matter
how we got here. We need to get cleaned up or the Turks will toss us in
prison for some trumped up charge.” They raced through the streets, thankful
that nobody was awake and moving. It wasn’t long before they came to a pool
of clean water. “There must be a spring feeding this. Let’s wash off and get
out of here.”
Ten minutes later they shook off their wet hair
and clothes and headed for the Dung Gate. “We need to stay out of sight
until King Kegan and his group leave. It’s too dangerous inside the walls.”
With no other choice, they spent the rest of their days hiding in the
valleys surrounding the city.
Alroy led them away from Jerusalem after a week’s stay and went in the
direction of Constantinople, the capitol of the Byzantine Empire. Sarmantha
longed to see the Byzantine churches and architecture. As far as she was
concerned, though suffering from recent attacks by the Turks, as Jerusalem
had, nothing could compare to their magnificent buildings.
Once or twice Zerahemna glanced behind to see if Dugan’s guards followed and
much to his pleasure, saw them creeping along far in the distance.