Book I: The Codex Lacrimae, Pt. 1
The Codex Lacrimae, Part 1: The Mariner’s Daughter & Doomed Knight
by: A.J. Carlisle
Chapter 1: The Arrival of Ibn-Khaldun
The elderly, kaftan-clad man slid wearily from the camel’s back.
Apparently unaware that its burden had dismounted, the single-humped and spindly-legged beast trotted a few steps forward. It staggered backward upon bowed legs, barely regaining balance to avoid the edge of the cliff.
The old man didn’t fare much better than the animal. He landed with a stumble on the hard-baked earth of the Syrian steppe and placed a shaking, dark-fleshed hand to the rough hide of the camel’s flank. One of animal’s horny, black-padded knees brushed against the old man’s left side as he threw a comforting arm over his mount’s long neck.
The man’s seasoned eyes scanned the ridge of the cliff on the opposite side of the vast, boulder-strewn wadi. Satisfied that no pursuit was in evidence, he made an irritated snort that matched those of his still-aggrieved camel.
Their rustling movements were enough to startle the various birds and animals that lived here. Some crested larks fluttered from a nearby grove of terebinth trees. A brown hare dashed into its hole. Some gazelles leapt with such a fleeting motion that their tan hides blended momentarily with the long-bladed brown grasses.
Would that he’d possessed such speed to flee from his pursuers through southern Arabia!
A breeze arose, carrying with it fine particles of dirt and sand, and clearing from him the last bit of whimsy.
Still, I’m tired. Another moment of rest, perhaps.
Khajen ibn-Khaldun, a Muslim scholar and mystic, pulled the silken aba from his face and shallowly inhaled the warming air. The month-old soreness from the injuries to his ribs yet lingered, and breathing was extremely difficult. Should he expect otherwise? He was nearing seventy summers of life, and he’d been traveling for the last six months at a pace that would have challenged someone a third of his age. He absently rubbed a hand over his bruised side and stared at his destination: an immense walled fortress that rested upon a high, tiered bluff in the distance.
The Krak des Chevaliers.
A sigh passed from the elderly man’s cracked lips. He was almost home, but he still needed to reach the castle alive!
He desperately hoped that his pursuers were thrown off his trail in the sand dunes of the Nafud ad-Dahy desert, where he’d briefly joined a caravan of camel traders heading to Caesarea.
Here in the deceptive calm of early morning, Ibn-Khaldun knew better than to trust that his trackers had been diverted.
Whenever Ibn-Khaldun thought himself rid of his hunters, he’d always eventually discerned a faint, shadowed distortion on the horizon that revealed their steady advance toward him.
The old man swayed, semi-delirious as he absorbed the sight of the Krak.
Bits of stone and pebbles skittered noisily down the slope as he made his descent. His eyes stayed focused on the ground before him. Ibn-Khaldun well knew the ironic turns that Allah could create in human existence, and it would be just his ill fortune if he were to slip and break his neck this close to his destination!
Despite the tiredness, though, he still felt reluctant to mount because of the package in the leather saddlebags on the camel’s backside. Even from these few paces away, Ibn-Khaldun felt the malignant presence of the thing, a virulence infecting the purity of the morning desert air.
The thing in the saddlebags had appeared in his dreams from the beginning of his journey. The nightmares caused by it made the formerly staid Muslim scholar more nervous than his custom, and that change angered him, especially when he approaching the familiar fortress whose scriptorium he’d managed for forty years. This close to home, he refused to be nearer to the object than absolutely necessary.
Murmuring a word of encouragement to the camel, Ibn-Khaldun began the final leg of his flight from the East.
Something blurred into his awareness near the terebinth trees. Considering his aches, age, and exhaustion, it was with surprising alacrity that the old man drew his scimitar.
The instinctive reaction saved his life. His blade clanged into another, parrying the weapon slightly to the side. The attacker’s momentum carried him forward, stumbling slightly before he regained balance and brought his sword to a defensive position.
Ibn-Khaldun raised an eyebrow. The slightly curved, double-edged saif blade seemed noteworthy for being almost as long as his attacker was high! He faced a boy of ten or eleven, who struggled to maintain his balance even as he hefted the blade for another swing.
“Ibn-Khaldun lowered his sword, speaking softly in Arabic.
“Here, here, Child. Easy. I’m an old man and alone. You’ve nothing to fear from me.”
“Ay-iah !” The boy shouted as he swung, his blade parried easily again by Ibn-Khaldun.
If the old man weren’t so tired, he could’ve laughed at the situation. To have escaped death for six months, only to be confronted by an armed whelp here at sanctuary!
Another boy sprinted into the area, straight into the still-screaming attacker’s midsection. The scholar’s rescuer was dark-haired, athletic, and a hand-span taller than the first youth. Both boys crashed into the shrubbery. The momentum of the newcomer’s tackle threw the first boy’s arms and legs akimbo as the saif flew from his grasp.
Ibn-Khaldun lowered his own blade gratefully as he watched his young savior rear upward on top of the fallen boy. Straddling his opponent’s shoulders, he delivered two quick slaps across the face. Then the rescuer leapt upward, yanking the child upright by bunching a fist into the linen cloth over his chest.
With a shove he pushed the attacker at Ibn-Khaldun.
“Apologize!” the dark-haired teenager said fiercely to the callow boy.
“I’m sorry!” the boy yelled fearfully. The other youth slapped the back of his head.
“No, say it like you mean it!”
“I’m sorry, Ancient One! Um…may you have many grandchildren who are better mannered than me!” The child looked back at the older boy, wondering if the words were good enough.
“Get back to the camp,” the newcomer ordered, “and tell your father that we’ll have words. I’m absolutely through with you people.”
The shaken boy, tears welling in his eyes, bowed again to Ibn-Khaldun as he muttered another apology.
The other one shook his head in disgust. “You’re an idiot. Run!”
“My father’s going to want his sword back!” The boy cried out. He then dashed out of sight through a copse of trees. The teen-aged rescuer retrieved the saif and inspected it as he returned to the old man.
Ibn-Khaldun frowned thoughtfully. Although he’d just been saved by the boy, the old man maintained his guard. There was a heat in the youth’s hazel eyes and a steadiness to his wiry sword arm that belied his apparent twelve or thirteen years of life.
The adolescent’s athleticism and natural handling of a sword reminded Ibn-Khaldun of Ríg, the most skillful and warrior-like of his apprentices back at the Krak.
The boy noticed the stance and looked straight into Ibn-Khaldun’s eyes. There was an anger in that gaze, but it seemed directed at something beyond this situation.
“You don’t need to fear anything, ya Akh. I’m sorry, too — that anyone should have to start a morning like that isn’t right.” He offered the sword hilt-first. “You can keep it.”
Ibn-Khaldun haltingly raised his free hand. “No, no — I don’t need another blade. I’m grateful for your help.”
“I saw your parries,” the boy said. “You didn’t need anybody. Aqib’s lucky that you didn’t take his head off.”
“Ibn-Khaldun sheathed his sword, taking a moment to note the youth’s features — curly black hair, angular face, and thin lips compressed into a frown. The boy wore a simple linen tunic that seemed oversized for his small frame, which was bound at the waist by a thick leather girdle from which a scabbard depended.
“So, he’s not a brother?” Ibn-Khaldun asked.
“No, thank God. He’s the son of Ghannen, the caravan leader.”
“Down in a wadi, beyond those trees. We arrived yesterday —” The boy stopped talking at the sound of prolonged coughing from behind him. He turned and raised his voice.
“I’m over here, Ima !” He paused. Then again, “Mother! Over here!”
There was no response. The boy made a curt bow to Ibn-Khaldun. “Again, I’m sorry he bothered you. Le’hitra’ot — I’ve got to go. Fare well in your travels, and may the next stop be friendlier than this one.”
The boy then trotted a short distance through some clustered junipers to the trunk of a cypress, stopping to kneel beside a prone form.
In spite of his need for haste, Ibn-Khaldun was curious and approached.
The boy glanced at him, made a move to rise, decided there was still no threat from the old man, and returned his attention to the woman lying on the grass. Ibn-Khaldun couldn’t see her features, but noticed the quality of the cinnamon-brown mantle covering the upper part of her beige dress.
“Im, Im, wake up.” The boy said, gently prodding the woman’s shoulder.
She stirred, reached a hand to the boy’s, and grasped it firmly.
“I’m awake, Jacob. Not so roughly. I’m awake.” She coughed and remained lying where he had found her. “Is it late?
“We’re not alone, Ima.”
She rolled in the direction of his nod toward Ibn-Khaldun and frowned upon seeing him.
“Boker Tov, Ge’veret,” Ibn-Khaldun greeted her with a slight bow, hoping to put her at ease by remaining in the Hebrew the boy spoke. “Good morning. I’m sorry if some swordplay awakened you.” He nodded toward the youth. “Your son helped me. You’re well protected – a good thing in these parts.”
“It is, indeed,” the woman replied, accepting her son’s hand as she rose to her feet.
A violent cough overtook her and she put her mouth in the crook of her robe until it subsided. Brushing her hands against her tunic, she gave Ibn-Khaldun a searching look. “Boker Tov,” she said, returning the morning greeting.
They all introduced themselves, and Ibn-Khaldun learned that the mother, Rebecca, and her son, Jacob, were on the final leg of an overland journey from Constantinople to Jerusalem.
“Ya akh …, Master Khajen,” Rebecca asked when the two adults sat down to break their fast with some flat breads and fruits, “might I ask: what is your intention?”
“I go there,” he replied simply, turning to face the crusader castle.
“There?” Jacob exclaimed with an incredulous shake of his head. “Many nazaros, Christians, are there – neither of our kind would be welcome. You’d do better to head for Jerusalem, Old One.”
“Jacob, how rude — you don’t speak to your elders like that! Apologize at once!” The mother’s voice slapped the morning air, bringing color to his face. He glanced at her and mumbled an apology to Ibn-Khaldun.
The old man laughed. “No, no – such truth in observation merits comment. ‘Believe what you see, and lay aside what you hear,’ eh, Young One? He’s right, he’s right — it’s a strange thing for a Muslim to go willingly to a Christian fortress, isn’t it?”
“Jacob, please sit down quietly and eat. Don’t begrudge Master Khajen’s generosity for the sake of a few more minutes of saber play.”
“It’s not ‘ play,’ Ima,” Jacob said with irritation.
“The blade is heavier than it looks, Ima,” he continued defensively as he collapsed cross-legged beside the adults, scooping an assortment of dried apricots and almonds from some unwrapped palm leaves, “and I need to practice if the sword’s to become second nature.” As he ate, Jacob’s eyes wandered to the Krak, then settled on Ibn-Khaldun. “Forgive me, Master, but I still can’t believe you want to go there. Look at that place! It’s huge, and the Christians kill without looking …”
“…while we Muslims look with zeal as we are killing?” Ibn-Khaldun finished.
The old man paused before taking a bite of his bread. “You’re too angry, young man, and, perhaps, too strong-worded to your mother. My people have a saying: ‘Arrogance is a weed that grows mostly on a dunghill.’ ”
“Arrogant?” Jacob exclaimed, turning the heat of his gaze at the Crusader castle onto Ibn-Khaldun. “I’m anything but arrogant. I just want to protect us.”
“Perhaps, perhaps – if I mistake your anger for something else, forgive me,” Ibn-Khaldun said.
Rebecca started to say something, but was consumed again by a coughing fit.
“S’leexa,” Ibn-Khaldun pardoned himself, “but that cough doesn’t sound good. Have you had it long?”
Rebecca looked quickly to her son who remained focused on his food.
“Yes, for some months,” she replied, shaking her head as adults do when they don’t want something discussed before children.
“Ah,” Ibn-Khaldun said, taking the hint. “I see….” He chewed an almond, and then nodded to the two heavily laden camels tethered in the grove. “I see that you’ve traveled widely. I assume you’ve crossed the Great Sea more than once?”
“The sea, yes,” Rebecca said, “but mostly moving with the caravans along coastal routes. My husband tolerated ships, but he preferred land under his feet. As do I.”
“He’s not with you?”
“No. We’ve not heard from him in five years, not since the Battle of Mecina.” She nodded toward Jacob. “We couldn’t stay in Constantinople. The Genoese merchant who rented our stall tried to take advantage of me. I resisted, and he gave our shop to a more…cooperative merchant.”
Jacob snorted, reaching for another handful of dried fruit and nuts.
His mother glanced at him, and then said, “We’re returning to my mother’s house in Jerusalem, where I think that my husband will go, if he’s able.”
“He’s dead, Mother. The Christians killed him in one of their senseless wars.”
“Long are the years that sometimes pass when a merchant is abroad,” Ibn-Khaldun said. “Do you know that he has for certain died?”
“He was at Mecina,” Jacob replied. “Who survived that massacre, except Christians?” He wrenched a handful of grass from the verge to wipe his hands.
Ibn-Khaldun offered the boy his water skin. “Your father might not be dead. He might very well be alive. I know some survivors of the Battle of Mecina who live in that very castle. My apprentice survived that battle — his name’s Ríg, and at the time he was little older than you are now.”
“Ríg?” Jacob snorted. “That’s not an Arabic or Hebrew name. If he’s a Christian, I’m not surprised that he survived the massacre.”
“You do know that it takes two sides to fight a battle, eh?” Ibn-Khaldun said patiently, as a teacher might do with a stubborn student. “That one of Saladin’s own brothers was besieging Mecina and killing pilgrims who tried to escape?”
“I’ve heard many versions,” Jacob replied quietly. “In none of them does my father survive, and in all accounts the Hooded Hospitaller, Santini, slaughters all who get in his way.”
“There was much death in that siege, true,” Ibn-Khaldun said, “but, I’ve also heard that Saladin retreated when it became obvious that staying wasn’t worth taking the castle. I saw the battleground, Jacob. There were many bodies — Christians and my people alike. Perhaps it wasn’t only Santini’s men doing the killing, eh? You do know that many pilgrims, merchants, and villagers escaped Mecina thanks to Santini’s efforts, don’t you?”
The old man shrugged at the insoluble problem. “War is war, and for human beings it seems as if killing is sometimes just as much a part of living, especially when religion is involved.”
“Human beings?” Jacob cried. “They weren’t human, those Christians at Mecina.” He glared at the Krak as if the fire in his eyes could incinerate its walls. “Servius Aurelius Santini wasn’t human,” the boy continued heatedly. “Hundreds died at the castle because of his insufferable nazaro arrogance, and my father was just —” his eyes brimmed, but he finished the sentence. “My father was just making his way back from a business trip.”
“You’d seek vengeance, then? At your age?” Ibn-Khaldun asked. “Isn’t that prohibited in your religion?”
“If it’s against my own people, yes. If others, then, no.” Jacob said softly, as if talking about religion relaxed him. “You seem to know our laws well, ya Akh, so perhaps you also know of this: ‘He who comes to slay you, slay him first.’ To do otherwise is suicide, and that I will not allow.”
Ibn-Khaldun laughed. “I see, I see. ‘If someone is coming to kill you, get up early and kill him first, eh?’ That’s a very assertive attitude, Jacob. Thankfully, I’ve seen it in action this morning and I think it saved my life.”
“I think you mock me, ya Akh. Our proverbs have another saying: ‘Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.’ I’ll let my sword do its work now, and try to think about your words.” Jacob rose to his feet, bowed curtly at Ibn-Khaldun, and said to his mother. “Imam, I’ll be at the other end of the grove. Practicing.”
Ibn-Khaldun thoughtfully watched the youth stride away.
“You talk too much like a rabbi,” the mother commented, “and Jacob very much wanted to become one someday. Your way of speaking angers him because it reminds him of the mitzvah and of what’s been lost. I hope that he might still become one, but,” tears filled her eyes, “death has been with us much of late and he’s not himself.” She watched the boy slashing at imaginary enemies and shook her head. “He’d rather be angry than face some difficult truths.”
“Well, he’s young. Isn’t that their way?” Ibn-Khaldun observed. “There’s a boy in that castle I should like to introduce him to. He’s had bad experiences, too, yet he’s an apt pupil and good friend. Yes, I think that your Jacob and my apprentice, Ríg, would… .”
“The words faded as Ibn-Khaldun’s eyes narrowed and focused on a point in the distance, near the horizon, almost midway between Jacob’s shadow fencing and the fortress itself. He winced as he pushed himself to a standing position. “Perhaps such conversations might take place sooner than I thought. We must all get to the Krak.”
The woman shook her head. “We’ll not be joining you, Old One. You heard my son. We’re going with the caravan south to Jerusalem.”
“Not unless you’d walk through an army, you’re not,” Ibn-Khaldun corrected.
“Look, there. Do you see?” Ibn-Khaldun rose to his feet, helping the woman up. “It has the look of a sand storm, but have you ever seen a storm that low-lying and against such a calm air and blue, sunny sky? No, we must get inside.”
Rebecca called Jacob. The boy stopped his fencing practice to run back and join them.
“We’ll also discuss that cough of yours when we’re inside,” Ibn-Khaldun promised quietly as the boy neared. “It’s not a good sign that you’ve had it so long.”
“You know medicinal arts?” Rebecca whispered.
“Enough, and, perhaps, more than enough. We’ll see.”
Jacob halted a few steps away, looking warily at Ibn-Khaldun.
“An army comes,” Rebecca said. “Look, there. We’ll take refuge in the fortress with this man. He says that a plea for sanctuary will be recognized.”
“Absolutely not, Ima ! They’re Christians!” Jacob exclaimed.
“As might be that army,” Ibn-Khaldun qualified, nodding to the distant smudge on the horizon. “At least the Christians in the castle I know. Besides, I follow the teachings of Muhammad, and there are others like me, as well as Hebrews within that fortress. It’s like a small city. Even Crusaders can’t live long in these parts without adopting many of the region’s customs. You and your caravan will all be welcome. Trust me.”
The boy’s eyes flicked from the horizon to the castle and back to the horizon again. “Imam, we could…no.” He lowered his eyes as if seeking an answer to the quandary from the ground itself.
“Oh, very well.” He inhaled deeply. “We’re again in your debt, and will accept your kind invitation.”
Ibn-Khaldun’s eyebrows rose at that, pleasantly surprised. He nodded and moved to recover his camel.
“Master,” Jacob said, “I’ll go tell Ghannen of the armies and return his sword. There are only twenty carts in the caravan and the animals will be ready. They’ll be there by the time you and Ima reach the bottom of the mountain.”
“Very well,” Ibn-Khaldun agreed, impressed by the boy’s efficiency.
Jacob gave a look to his mother and when she nodded with a shooing motion of her hand, he ran off down the trail.
As he helped Rebecca mount her camel, Ibn-Khaldun tried to ignore the whispers in his mind that returned almost immediately upon his settling into his own linen-lined saddle, the words spoken softly but with an almost overwhelming urgency that made him want to do nothing but flip open the saddlebags behind him and take the thing out. If he just took it for himself, the voices told him, so very many things could be made right. So many losses undone. So many years regained….
Jacob rejoined them sooner than expected, telling the two adults that Ghannen had already begun to move the caravan and would meet them on the valley road.
Grateful for the company on this leg of his journey, Ibn-Khaldun reflected on the last time he’d been around other people: a month ago, with his own family of bedouin traders in the heart of the Nafud Desert, or “Empty Quarter.”
That stay had been special for Ibn-Khaldun because he’d been able to spend some time with his son, Thaqib, who was the second-in-command to Khalil (the sheikh who led the tribe). Khalil was a man of great charisma who was married to Ibn-Khaldun’s daughter, Fatima. His adult children and son-in-law led a very successful camel caravan, participating in an overland trade that reached far eastwards into Persia.
When he’d been with them, he’d fought an overwhelming temptation to speak with them — particularly Fatima — but he couldn’t risk endangering his family.
Indeed, how could he tell anyone, when he still didn’t know how he was going to relate the news about his strange package to Ríg? He’d momentarily wanted to share his mind with Fatima. She’d always been able to predict future events long before they happened — so long as all the facts were in front of her — and she also knew Ríg as a friend because of the many years she’d spent visiting the Krak. But, Fatima would have told him to give the saddlebag to her or Thaqib, and insisted that he let one of them complete the delivery so the scholar could rest with the bedouin.
His response then remained the same as now: No, I’ve got to finish this myself. Ríg’s just a boy. He’ll need some kind of guidance with this…thing.”
“So, he’d left them full of questions, saying only that he was urgently needed back at the Krak. Reluctantly, Fatima and Thaqib let him go, taking some comfort in the fact that the citadel offered at least the consolation that Ibn-Khaldun’s other son — an adopted Christian named Marcus — still lived within its walls.
Ibn-Khaldun wasn’t a fool. He knew that getting the thing in the saddlebag to Rig was only half the battle. Solving its mystery would harshly test a friendship with his best student, and the entire matter deeply troubled him. Even though a westerner, Ríg had become as much of a son to Ibn-Khaldun as either Marcus or Thaqib.
However, wherever the hunters came from, their menace was real. They’d made four attempts on the Muslim scholar’s life in their half-year chase. Each of Ibn-Khaldun’s escapes was narrower than the previous one, and the latest assault in the city of Shuqrah had almost killed the old man. He’d badly injured his left knee when he fell while tipping a fruit cart, but the effort had wrenched something in his side that was still not fully right.
The trio finally closed in on the caravan, bringing Ibn-Khaldun’s thoughts back to the present. The drivers of its rearmost carts hailed Jacob and Rebecca.
“Now, let’s make haste and get me introduced to this Ghannen,” Ibn-Khaldun urged. “I’ve not journeyed seven hundred leagues to get caught at my front door!”
As Ibn-Khaldun and his companions joined the small caravan at the first switchback road leading up to the front gate, for the first time in six months he didn’t look back over his shoulder.
The oversight meant that he missed seeing two figures watch his progress from the rocky promontory and grove of terebinth trees that he and his companions had departed only a brief while ago.
Nor, of course, from his position on the slanting roadway could Ibn-Khaldun see the vast darkness of a larger, second army that followed a short distance behind the watchers.
[End of Chapter 1]
For remainder of story, please follow links to e-book versions below!
A.J. Carlisle, The Codex Lacrimae, Part 1: The Mariner’s Daughter & Doomed Knight
http://www.amazon.com/Codex-Lacrimae, Part 1
A.J. Carlisle, The Codex Lacrimae, Part 2: The Book of Tears