Story: Tales from the Crusades, Part 1 The Opportunist – by Jean-Christophe, Illustrated by Amalaric

Moussa al-Khaldun is often disdainfully dismissed by his competitors as a shameful camp-follower. And it’s true that he isn’t a warrior and he has never fought in any of the battles against the despised Franj warriors from faraway Europe who have invaded the lands of Dar-al-Islam. Nevertheless, he professes to vehemently hate these unbelievers with much passion and he considers his profession to be as noble as that of the holy warriors who ride into battle against their Christian enemies. Perhaps this judgment of him as a camp follower is a bit harsh; a more fitting description of him would be that of a callous opportunist who follows behind the army of true believers as they do battle with the Nasrani infidels.

From a safe distance, Moussa al-Khaldun is able to assess the situation on a nearby battlefield. Should the Franj be victorious, Moussa will mount his camel and beat a hasty retreat back to the nearest fortified town or city and seek sanctuary behind its stout, stone walls. However, if the true believers emerge victorious, Moussa wastes no time in goading his camels forward to visit the victors’ camp and share in the spoils of victory.

For Moussa al-Khaldun’s calling is that of a slave trader who opportunistically buys newly captured Christians from the victors to supply the insatiable slave-markets of the Near East and even those further afield in Africa and Asia. 

Over the years, Moussa has supplied white, European slaves to the markets of East Africa, Arabia, India and even a few to those mysterious, mythical kingdoms of Kambuja and Champa. In fact, he is aware that some of his slaves have eventually found their way to far distant China where white eunuchs are the most highly prized of all slaves. It is true that many a bewildered Christian slave has found bitter servitude in lands which he never knew existed.

Today, Moussa hastens out to the camp of a victorious emir who, against all predictions, has been victorious over a numerically stronger army of Frankish knights and foot-soldiers. He’d left the sanctuary of the city in the early morning darkness long before the city’s inhabitants began to stir. He did so because he wanted to steal an early march on his competitors who are foolishly still asleep in their beds.

Past experience has taught Moussa that the early bird does, in fact, catch the worm. Clichéd perhaps but nevertheless it’s true. Chances are there are “survivors” among the routed Christians who are now destined to serve as slaves. Cannily, Moussa knows that as the first slaver to arrive, he’ll have the pick of the crop. There’s every chance he’ll have made his selection from among the primest specimens and be on his way long before his competitors arrive to heatedly haggle with one another over the remaining Franj captives.

As dawn breaks on the eastern horizon, Moussa spurs his camels forward. He is accompanied by his two, trusted African servants, Abou and Walid who will serve as his slave-drivers to urge his new purchases onwards to the slave-market. The early morning silence is broken by the protesting grunts of his camels and the rhythmic rattling of the newly forged coffle-chains they carry in large sacks on their humps.

The golden glow of the rising sun dispels the night’s gloom and Moussa knows he is close to the battlefield by the faint, sickly-sweet odour wafting over the sandy wastes. Overhead, in the distance, the sky is filled with circling carrion birds waiting their turn to swoop and feast on the bloated corpses of the vanquished Christians.

The stench of death grows ever stronger and now Moussa covers his mouth and nostrils in a vain attempt to lessen its impact. Having visited many battlefields, Moussa is no stranger to the smell and he has become more or less inured to it. But the number of deaths resulting from this battle exceeds those of all other battlegrounds he has visited and he does find the noxious stench distressing. Spread out over the desert sands and stretching as far as his eyes can discern are the sun-blackened bodies of the hated foe.

And dotted among the dead are pyramids of severed, infidel heads over which scavenging, snarling jackals fight one another for the tastiest morsels.

Such should be the fate which awaits all Franj infidels who dare to invade the lands of Islam!

Moussa rides past the battlefield and continues on to the victors’ camp. Their colourful tents contrast with the drab-coloured landscape and their banners hang motionless in the still, desert air.

Approaching the camp, Moussa and his servants pass down a long avenue of enemy heads impaled on pikes; their now sightless eyes gazing emptily out over the land they’d come to take as their own.

Moussa becomes worried! Given the number of dead Christians about him, he wonders was the order given for total annihilation of the enemy with no taking of prisoners. If so his journey has been for nought. Then, as he enters the camp, he sees a group of some one hundred to one hundred and fifty dejected, Christian prisoners huddled together in a guarded enclosure.

As he rides past, Moussa looks down from his camel and does a quick, visual appraisal of the captives. He takes note of the youngest, strongest and fittest of them and knows he’ll have no difficulty choosing a suitable number of infidel slaves for his coffle.

Moussa is pleased! His visit to the emir will prove profitable!

TBC

 

 

 

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