Tales from the Crusades, Part 5, “The Warrior” by Jean-Christophe, Illustrated by Amalaric

Yüsef fought valiantly – but vainly – against overwhelming odds. In truth, the outcome of the unexpected skirmish was a foregone conclusion and defeat was inevitable. Outnumbered, Yüsef and his Saracen comrades were no match for the Crusaders lead by Raynald de Châtillon, Lord of Oultrejourdain.

Despite his belief in the righteousness of his own cause, Yüsef was overwhelmed by the absolute fanaticism of the Franj. Surely, he thought, these Unbelievers aren’t merely men; they must be evil djinns, the spawn of Shaytan.

Yüsef and his small band of holy warriors had been caught unawares by a numerically stronger troop of Crusaders. The ensuing battle was brief but merciless. Yüsef and his comrades stood back to back and valiantly fought the Franj inflicting death and injury upon them with their flashing, bloody scimitars. And yet, as they fought, they knew their situation was hopeless. Worn down by successive waves of Franj warriors, they were finally overcome and in those final, few moments, Yüsef prepared for death. But an honorable death was denied him that day; Raynald de Châtillon had other plans for his captives and their lives were spared. Stripped of their weapons and roped together, Yüsef and the other survivors – they totalled seventeen – were marched into captivity at his fortress of Al-Karak. Continue reading

Tales from the Crusades, Part 4, The Slave-trader by Jean-Christophe, Illustrated by Amalaric

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Moussa Al-Khaldun is accustomed to the disdain being shown to him by the emir. He is well aware most men in high places look down upon him and view his profession with distaste. After all, Moussa knows that, throughout history, slave-traders have always been despised as mere peddlers in human flesh and not fit company for men of higher calling.

Once, this had bothered him! However, over the long years of his involvement in the slave trade, he has become inured to the contempt shown to him by his so-called ‘betters’. In fact, he’d turned their contempt back onto them and he secretly despises them for what they are – hypocrites of the worst kind. Moussa sees no distinction between what he does so openly and what men like the emir do secretly through their intermediaries. At least, he openly and personally buys and sells slaves for a living and he makes no apologies for doing so. In fact, trading in slaves has made him a very rich man – possibly richer even than the emir and his ilk.

But men like the emir are no less greedy than Moussa and they are quick to claim the spoils of their victories – in the emir’s case, the recently captured Franj prisoners – and to convert them into ‘respectable’ gold to fill their coffers. Of course, the emir doesn’t soil his hands by indulging in face to face negotiations with a despised dealer of slaves. Instead the emir acts through his chamberlain, an elderly, sedate slave who has the power to accept or reject Moussa’s offer to buy from among the Christian prisoners. Continue reading

Tales from the Crusades, Part 3, The Scholar by Jean-Christophe, Illustrated by Amalaric

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Slavery doesn’t sit well on Malik’s whip-striped shoulders. He has been enslaved for three years; the chattel of his Franj owner, the Crusader knight, Philippe de Montaillou.

Malik had been a stripling of fifteen years when, in 1102, the Crusader army of Raymond de Saint-Gilles, Count of Toulouse had laid siege to the city of Tripoli. For the next two thousand days he, together with his fellow Tripolitanians, endured ever increasing hardship. Caught between the blockading Franks at her walls and a Genoese fleet anchored off her coast, Tripoli managed to withstand the siege for as long as she could. Vainly, the citizens of Tripoli waited for their squabbling co-religionists to put aside their political differences with one another and to mount a counter offensive against the Crusader army. When this didn’t eventuate their final hope rested on a fleet of war vessels dispatched from Fatimid Egypt to disperse the Genoese ships at sea and to engage the Franj on land.

The besieged citizens of Tripoli anxiously waited for the fleet’s arrival and, as each day passed without any sign of its sails on the horizon, their hopes sank a little lower. Finally, with all hope abandoned, the city fell to the unbelievers on 12 July, 1109. Eight hours later, the Fatimid fleet arrived too late to save them.

With its fall, Tripoli, the city of goldsmiths, scholars and libraries, became the fourth Christian colony in the Moslem world after Antioch, Edessa and Jerusalem. Continue reading

Tales from the Crusades, Part 2, The Pilgrim by Jean-Christophe, Illustrated by Amalaric

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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. Continue reading

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.  Continue reading