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Benoit de Les Baux-de-Provence stands lost and bewildered in the centre of an enclosed courtyard somewhere in Alexandria. Stripped naked save for a skimpy loincloth and the shackles he wears on his wrists and ankles, he watches as his fellow pilgrims are haggled over and sold.
Soon it will be his turn to be sold!
What are the circumstances which see him in such dire distress? Bitterly, he curses the perfidious nature of the infidel which has betrayed him so cruelly. Isn’t there a two year truce negotiated by King Baldwin of Jerusalem and Saladin in place promising safe passage to Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. And it had been this guarantee of safe passage that had encouraged him to make his pilgrimage.
He’d set out with much religious fervour to walk where the Saviour had lived and died to bring salvation to all true Christians and to win for himself many indulgences from Holy Mother Church.
And there’d also been his young man’s yearning for adventure and the longing to see the world beyond the narrow confines of his life in Les Baux. The many stories of fabled Outremer had served as a powerful magnet to his sense of adventure. Spurred on by the tavern yarns of those who’d actually worn the Cross and lived to tell their tales and by the wandering minstrels’ ballads of the Crusaders’ heroic deeds, he’d sought his father’s reluctant permission to make his own personal pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Clothed in the cloak of a true pilgrim, he’d set out by ship travelling in a convoy from Marseille and began the long voyage to Outremer. His days were spent with his fellow pilgrims in penitential prayer and the loud singing of psalms and hymns and his nights in envy watching the more worldly seamen quaffing large quantities of cheap wine and listening to their bawdy, tavern songs.
As they’d neared their destination, a sudden Mediterranean storm blew their vessels off-course and they were forced to seek safety in the Nile tributary port of Damietta. There, the convoy’s captain had thought to ride out the rough weather before continuing up the coast to a port where the pilgrims could disembark and begin their overland journey to Jerusalem.
However, sanctuary was denied them! Instead the convoy’s captain, his ships’ crews and passengers were taken ashore and imprisoned. Their pleas for an explanation were ignored and they were left to languish in fetid cells while a decision was made about their fates.
Benoit’s time in the cells weighed heavily on his young shoulders. Confused by this unexpected turn of events, he fretfully worried what was to become of him. Already, he’d caught glimpses of the fate which possibly awaited him. On his way to his prison, he’d seen groups of near naked, Christian slaves with their shackled limbs and flayed backs toiling under the cruel whips of their Moslem masters. Was this then to be his future?
With new-found fervour, he prayed to all the saints in heaven to intercede on his behalf and deliver him from his tribulations.
He could only speculate on the reasons why he was a prisoner. Naturally, given everything that he’d been taught about the treacherous Moslems, he blamed them and damned them all to the ever-lasting fires of Hell.
He was right to suspect treachery as the cause of his detention. But the treachery lay not with the Moslems but with his fellow countryman, Raynald of Châtillon, formerly Prince of Antioch and now Lord of Oultrejourdain who’d broken the truce between King Baldwin and Saladin. From the lofty heights of his stronghold, Al-Karak, Raynald overlooked the trade route from Damascus to Egypt and the pilgrimage route from Damascus to Mecca. Greedy for more riches, Raynald began raiding Moslem caravans and earned the undying enmity of Saladin.
Incensed by this act of betrayal, Saladin demanded compensation through King Baldwin. Raynald refused to pay and declared he was no man’s vassal and the master of his own domain.
In retaliation, Saladin ordered the seizing of the convoy sheltering in Damietta and the selling of the pilgrims into slavery. The work hardened sailors and the older pilgrims were put to work in the stone quarries or made to labour on strengthening the city’s fortifications. Benoit and the younger, more comely pilgrims were chosen for a very different fate. Taken to the slave-market of nearby Alexandria they are destined for the debauched lives of pleasure slaves in the all-male seraglios of their new masters.
Most probably, Benoit will never know of Raynald’s treachery or that he is a victim of the Lord of Oultrejourdain’s over-preening pride and insatiable greed. Of course, he’ll know he is a slave but never really understand the reason for his enslavement. And from the safety of Al-Karak, Raynald of Châtillon will never give Benoit and his fellow pilgrims a second thought.
Today, Benoit stands and waits as his fellow pilgrims are quickly sold. Now, it is his turn to be sold and he trembles as the eager buyers cluster around him, gesturing at him and talking animatedly in their incomprehensible tongue. He shouts in protest as the slave-dealer tears his scanty covering from his body exposing his naked loins to the lecherous view of the buyers. He draws back as an older man in rich garments reaches out and takes hold of his manhood. His futile struggles amuse the onlookers and they laugh as the old man strokes him to rampant erection. Then, he is turned around and bent double to expose the hidden and most private part of his body to public scrutiny. He gasps audibly as a finger enters into him and his bitter tears of shame darken the cobblestones at his feet.
He hears the old man talking with the slave-dealer; they seem to be haggling. Then his arse is slapped – as a sign that he has been sold – and he is left alone with his new Master while the buyers move on to the next offering.
Once more clothed in his loincloth and leashed, he is lead away by his new Master and tonight, he’ll begin his new duties as a bed-slave. Then, tomorrow, he’ll be taken to a blacksmith’s workshop where he’ll be branded with his Master’s mark and have the shameful collar of slavery fastened around his neck
As he trails submissively behind his new Master, Benoit’s troubled thoughts fly to faraway Les Baux-de-Provence. It is another world and another life both of which are now lost to him forever.