Read THE BOOK OF NAY - CHAPTER VIII of The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay, free online book, by Maurice Hewlett, on ReadCentral.com.

OF THE GOING-UP AND GOING-DOWN OF THE MARQUESS

The Marquess of Montferrat travelled splendidly from Acre to Sidon with six galleys in his convoy.  So many, indeed, did not suffice him; for at Sidon he took off his favourite wife with her women, eunuchs and janissaries, and thus with twelve ships came to Tripolis.  Thence by the Aleppo road he went to Karak of the Knights, thence again, after a rest of two days, he started — he, the knights and esquires of his body in cloth of gold, with scarlet housings for the mules, litters for his womenkind; with his poets, his jongleurs, his priest, his Turcopoles and favourites; all this gaudy company, for the great ascent of Mont-Ferrand.

His mind was to impress the Old Man of Musse, but it fell out otherwise.  The Old Man was not easily impressed, because he was so accustomed to impressing.  You do not prophesy to prophets, or shake priests with miracles.  When he reached the top of Mont-Ferrand he was met by a grave old Sheik, who informed him quietly that he must remain there.  The Marquess was very angry, the Sheik very grave.  The Marquess stormed, and talked of armed hosts.  ‘Look up, my lord,’ said the Sheik.  The mountain-ridges were lined with bowmen; in the hanging-woods he saw the gleam of spears; between them and the sky, on all sides as far as one could see, gloomed the frozen peaks.  The Marquess felt a sinking.  He arose chastened on the morrow, and negotiations were resumed on the altered footing.  Finally, he begged for but three persons, without whose company he said he could not do.  He must have his chaplain, his fool, and his barber.  Impossible, the Sheik said; adding that if they were so necessary to the Marquess he might ‘for the present’ remain with them at Mont-Ferrand.  In that case, however, he would not see the Lord of the Assassins.

‘But that, very honourable sir,’ said the Marquess, with ill-concealed impatience, ‘is the simple object of my journey.’

‘So it was reported,’ the Sheik observed.  ’It is for you to consider.  For my own part I should say that these persons cannot be indispensable for a short visit.’

‘I can give his lordship a week,’ said the Marquess.

‘My master,’ replied the Sheik, ’may give you an hour, but considers that half that time should be ample.  To be sure, there is the waiting for audience, which is always wearisome.’

‘My friend,’ the Marquess said, opening his eyes, ’I am the King-elect of Jerusalem.’

‘I know nothing of such things,’ replied the Sheik.  ’I think we had better go down.’  Three only went down:  the Sheik, the Marquess, and Giafar ibn Mulk.

When at last they were in the garden-valley, and better still had reached the third of the halls of degree, they were met by the chief of the eunuchs, who told them his master was in the harem, and could not be disturbed.  The Marquess, who so far had been all smiles and interest, was now greatly annoyed; but there was no help for that.  In the blue court he must needs wait for nearly three hours.  By the time he was ushered into the milky light of the audience chamber he was faint with rage and apprehension; he was dazzled, he stumbled over the blood-red carpet, arrived fainting at the throne.  There he stayed, tongue-cloven, while the colourless Lord of Assassins blinked inscrutably upon him, with eyes so narrow that he could not tell whether he so much as saw him; and the adepts, rigid by the tribune-wall, stared at their own knees.

’What do you need of me, Marquess of Montferrat? ’asked the old hierarch in his most remote voice.  The Marquess gulped some dignity into himself.

‘Excellent sir,’ he said, ’I seek the amity of one king to another, alliance in a common good cause, the giving and receiving of benefits, and similar courtesies.’

These propositions were written down on tablets, and carefully scrutinized by the Old Man of Musse, who said at last —

’Let us take these considerations in order.  Of what kings do you propound the amity?’

‘Of yourself, sir,’ replied the Marquess, ‘and of myself.’

‘I am not a king,’ said Sinan, ’and had not heard that you were one either.’

‘I am King-elect of Jerusalem,’ the Marquess replied with stiffness.  The Old Man raised his wrinkled forehead.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘let us get on.  What is your common good cause?’

‘Eh, eh,’ said the Marquess, brightening, ’it is the cause of righteous punishment.  I strike at your enemy the Soldan through his friend King Richard.’  The Old Man pondered him.

‘Do you strike, Marquess?’ he asked at length.

‘Sir,’ the Marquess made haste to answer, ’your question is just.  It so happens that I cannot strike King Richard because I cannot reach him.  I admit it:  I am quite frank.  But you can strike him, I believe.  In so doing, let me observe, you will deal a mortal blow at Saladin, who loves him, and makes treaties with him to your detriment and the scandal of Christendom.’

‘Do you speak of the scandal of Christendom?’ asked Sinan, twinkling.

‘Alas, I must,’ said the Marquess, very mournful.

‘The cause is near to your heart, I see, Marquess.’

‘It is in it,’ replied the Marquess.  The Old Man considered him afresh; then inquired where the Melek might be found.

The Marquess told him.  ’We believe he is at Ascalon, separate from the Duke of Burgundy.’

‘Giafar ibn Mulk and Cogia Hassan,’ said the Old Man, as if talking in his sleep, ‘come hither.’  The two young men rose from the wall and fell upon their faces before the throne.  Their master spoke to them in the tone of one ordering a meal.

Return with the Marquess to the coast by the way of Emesa and Baalbek; and when you are within sight of Sidon, strike.  One of you will be burned alive.  I think it will be Giafar.  Let the other return speedily with a token.  The audience is finished.’

The Old Man closed his eyes.  At a touch from another the two prostrate Assassins crept up and kissed his foot, then rose, waiting for the Marquess.  He, pale as death, saw, felt, heard nothing.  At another sign a man put his hand on either shoulder.

‘Ha, Jesus-God!’ grunted the Marquess, as the sweat dripped off him.

‘Stop bleating, silly sheep, you will awaken the Master,’ said Giafar in a quick whisper.  They led him away, and the Old Man slept in peace.

The Marquess saw nothing of his people at Mont-Ferrand, for (to begin with) they were not there, and (secondly) he was led another way.  By the desolate crag of Masyaf, where a fortress, hung (as it seems) in mid-air, watches the valleys like a little cloud; through fields of snow, by terraces cut in the ice where the sheer rises and drops a thousand feet either way; so to Emesa, a mountain village huddled in perpetual shadows; thence down to Baalbek, and by foaming river-gorges into the sun and sight of the dimpling sea:  thus they led the doomed Italian.  He by this time knew the end was coming, and had braced himself to meet it stolidly.

The towers of Sidon rose chastely white above the violet; they saw the golden sands rimmed with foam; they saw the ships.  Going down a lane, luxuriant with flowers and scented shrubs, where steep cactus hedges shut out the furrowed fields and olive gardens, and the cicalas made hissing music, Giafar ibn Mulk broke the silence of the three men.

‘Is it time?’ he asked of his brother, without turning his head.

‘Not yet,’ Cogia replied.  The Marquess prayed vehemently, but with shut lips.

They reached an open moor, where there were rocks covered with cistus and wild vine.  Here the air was very sweet and pure, the sun pleasant.  The Marquess’s ass grew frisky, pricked up his ears and brayed.  Giafar ibn Mulk edged up close, and put his arm round the Marquess’s neck.

‘The signal is a good one,’ he said.  ‘Strike, Cogia.’

Cogia drove his knife in up to the heft.  The Marquess coughed.  Giafar lifted him from his ass, quite dead.

‘Now,’ says he, ’go thou back, Cogia.  I will stay here.  For so the Old Man plainly desired.’

‘I think with you,’ said Cogia.  ‘Give me the token.’  So they cut off the Marquess’s right hand, and Cogia, after shaking it, put it in his vest.  When he was well upon his way to the mountain road, Giafar sat down on a bank of violets, ate some bread and dates, then went to sleep in the sun.  So afterwards he was found by a picket of soldiers from Sidon, who also found all of their lord but his right hand.  They took Giafar ibn Mulk and burned him alive.

The Old Man of Musse was extremely kind to Jehane, who pleased him so well that he was seldom out of her company.  He thought Fulke a fine little boy, as he could hardly fail to be, owning such parents.  All the liberty that was possible to the favourite of such a great prince she had.  One day, about six weeks after she had first come into the valley, he sent for her.  When she had come in and made her reverence he drew her near to his throne, put his arm round her, and kissed her.  He observed with satisfaction that she was looking very well.

‘My child,’ he said kindly, ’I have news which I am sure will please you.  Very much of the Marquess of Montferrat is by this time lying disintegrate in a vault.’

Jehane’s green eyes faltered for a moment as she gazed into his wise old face.

‘Sir,’ she asked, by habit, ‘is this true?’ ‘It is quite true,’ said the Old Man.  ’In proof of it regard his hand, which one of my Assassins, the survivor, has brought me.’  He drew from his bosom a pale hand, and would have laid it in Jehane’s lap if she had let him.  As she would not, he placed it beside him on the floor.  Pursuing his discourse, he said —

’I might fairly claim my reward for that.  And so I should if I had not got it already.’

Again Jehane pondered him gravely.  ‘What reward more have you, sire?’

The Old Man, smiling very wisely, pressed her waist.  Jehane thought.

‘Why, what will you do with me now, sire?’ she inquired.  ’Will you kill me?’

‘Can you ask?’ said the Old Man.  Then he went on more seriously to say that he supposed the life of King Richard to be safe for the immediate future, but that he foresaw great difficulties in his way before he could be snug at home.  ’The Marquess of Montferrat was by no means his only enemy,’ he told her.  ’The Melek suffers, what all great men suffer, from the envy of others who are too obviously fools for him to suppose them human creatures.  But there is nothing a fool dislikes so much as to behold his own folly; and as your Melek is a looking-glass for these kind, you may depend upon it they will smudge him if they can.  He is the bravest man in the world, and one of the best rulers; but he has no discretion.  He is too absolute and loves too little.’

Jehane opened her eyes very wide.  ‘Why, do you know my lord, sire?’ she asked.  The Old Man took her hand.

’There are very few personages in the world of whom I do not know something,’ he said; ’and I tell you that there are terms to the Melek’s government.  A man cannot say Yea and Nay as he chooses without paying the price.  The debt on either hand mounts up.  He may choose with whom he will settle — those he has favoured or those he has denied.  As a rule one finds the former more insatiable.  Let him then beware of his brother.’

Jehane leaned towards him, pleading with eyes and mouth.  ‘Oh, sire,’ she said, trembling at the lips, ’if you have any regard for me, tell me when any danger threatens King Richard.  For then I must leave you.’

‘Why, that is as it may be,’ said her master; ’but I will let you know what I think good for you to know, and that must content you.’

Jehane’s beauty, enhanced as it was now by the sumptuous attire which she loved and by her bodily well-being, was great, and her modesty greater; but her heart was the greatest thing she had.  She raised her eyes again to the twinkling eyes of her possessor, and kept them there for a few steady seconds, while she turned over his words in her mind.  Then she looked down, saying, ’I will certainly stay with you till my lord’s danger is at hand.  It is a good air for my baby.’

‘It is good for all manner of things,’ said the Old Man; ’and remarkably good for you, my Garden of Exhaustless Pleasure.  And I will see to it that it continues to water the roses in your cheeks, beautiful child.’  Jehane folded her hands.

‘You will do as you choose, my lord,’ said she, ‘I doubt not.’

‘Be quite sure of it, dear child,’ said the Old Man.

Then he sent her back into the harem.