Crusader Lands: Ríg’s World
BOOK EXCERPT: “Chapter 7, The Labyrinth and the Ravens”
from A.J. Carlisle, The Codex Lacrimae, Part 1: The Mariner’s Daughter & Doomed Knight,
(Copyright 2012-2014, A.J. Carlisle)
A month after Clarinda’s meeting in the Wayfarer — and within moments of his entry into the Krak — Jacob hesitated. He’d neared the last of the three hallways on this latest attempt to follow Ibn-Khaldun’s instructions, but he was confused.
The interior of the Krak des Chevaliers seemed a labyrinth!
Ibn-Khaldun had told him that the scriptorium wasn’t far from the medical ward, but in his eagerness to explore the castle in his search for the scholar’s apprentice, Ríg, Jacob knew that he must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.
The boy had already passed through many wrong doorways, and ducked past fast-moving Hospitaller knights moving this way and that through the halls in preparation for war. He got shooed out of what looked like an armory by a couple of irritated looking knights, and stepped into a chapel during a morning mass. Now, by process of elimination and retraced steps, he was back by the infirmary and trying the third door.
He found himself in yet another, shorter, corridor. The door facing him was closed, and another opened into a room whose light flooded the semi-shadowed stones with yellowish illumination.
“Entrez, jeune homme, ” a voice said from somewhere beyond. “Don’t be afraid.”
Jacob flushed, not completely understanding the words of the unseen franj, but trusting in the friendly tone. His curiosity got the better of him and he peered into the room.
The morning sunlight shone strongly through a large, open window upon a brown-robed man who sat at an immense, grey-stone table. A feather quill was poised in the man’s right hand, and the table was cluttered with a variety of writing implements and reading material: a silver inkwell, scrolls of vellum and parchment, and ornately decorated books.
Jacob quelled a rush of excitement when he saw the shelves behind the man that contained books and rolled tubes. The boy had been learning to read for over nine years now, but even at thirteen he long ago ran through (and reread) all the texts in his family’s meager collection. He felt a burning curiosity to see the wall of literature behind the man, in spite of his need for haste since two armies were coming!
Then Jacob realized that the man was speaking to him.
“I’m looking for Ríg,” he replied.
The monk seemed to recognize the squire’s name because he smiled thinly and waved toward the doorway in the far wall.
Jacob bowed slightly and moved forward, keeping his hands crossed politely in front of him as he glanced at the books and parchments along the way. It took everything in him to ignore the impulse to shelf browse and he gasped when he realized that the room was but an antechamber to a couple vast chambers beyond.
What a library! Jacob was transfixed at the sight, taking in everything at once. Robed monks and priests sat at long oaken tables or stood at oversized lecterns, peering closely at texts as they all seemed to be busily scribbling on parchment sheets unrolled everywhere. The silence in which they worked was cavernous, and the scritching and scratching of the men reminded Jacob of animals’ claws scraping upon stone.
He’d been told by Ibn-Khaldun to go to the very back of the scriptorium where his living quarters were situated. Moving again with what he hoped was more confidence than he felt, Jacob kept close to a bookshelf on the western wall and chose the sunniest of the two doorways. Amazement at the size of the place coursed through Jacob. Books lined the walls from floor to ceiling and rolled parchments filled triangular slots. A mound of gold as high as a man’s height wouldn’t have impressed Jacob half as much as this library before him.
“Ti sei perso, giavanatto?” a dark-robed Hospitaller asked him, speaking in a dialect of Italian that Jacob recognized, thanks to his time in Constantinople. “These are private quarters.”
The question snapped the boy’s attention back to the object of his search.
“Si, Signore,” Jacob replied in Italian. “I mean, no. I’m not lost now. I was earlier, but I don’t think I am now.” He stepped fully into the room. Sunlight blazed through two windows whose shutters were ajar.
The chamber itself was another spacious affair, warmed by an enormous Persian carpet whose woolen pile was thick and comfortable even to Jacob’s leather slippered feet. From the cedar cabinetry to heavy polished sycamore table, reading lecterns, and a small writing desk rested near one of the larger windows, Jacob knew from the profusion of bottles, tubes, and vials that he must have finally reached Ibn-Khaldun’s sanctum.
Jacob found himself looking again at the man who had greeted him. In an instant, the boy realized that he’d mistaken everything about the man, from the color and nature of his robe to his age and features.
Apparently only a few years older than Jacob himself, the youth before him was a gigantic young man, of a stature that made Jacob think of the Norsemen rather than most of the monks he’d seen in passing through the library.
The tall youth wore a deep blue surcoat over a light chain-mail shirt, his forearms protected by leather braces, with black military hose that stretched comfortably over his heavily muscled legs to well-worn leather boots.
What threw Jacob the most, though, was the disconnect between the maturity in the man’s voice and the youthful features of his face.
Golden brown eyes curiously regarded Jacob from beneath a tousle of sandy brown hair, even though the same eyes kept returning to the table to check on the miscellany of bottles and herbs there. Jacob noted that the knight’s chiseled jaw line, aquiline nose, and high cheekbones seemed as liable to smile as to wear the kind of frown that presently marked his face. His well-tanned brow was furrowed in concentration. The youth simply didn’t appear to be a scholar, one of those frailer sorts who walked about scriptoriums hunched over from the very weight of their robes and whose greatest feats of strength were reserved for hefting a tome from a shelf to a table top! No, Jacob thought, this young knight seemed to belong more to the marbled of an imperial palace, not in the dusty hallways of a frontier crusader garrison.
The boy’s arrival had obviously interrupted this man at work.
With a finger capping the aperture, the knight delicately held a wooden funnel filled with an ocher powder in one hand, and a light green bottle in the other.
“Who are you trying to find?” the youth asked distractedly, returning his attention to pouring the powder into the bottle.
“A squire named Ríg. He’s needed in the infirmary, quickly.”
The knight nodded, and ignored the boy’s urgency as he carefully tapped the tip of the funnel against the bottle and corked it.
“You’re not lost. I’m Ríg.” He extended his hand across the table and Jacob gripped it in a firm shake.
“Oh. Oh, hello, I’m Jacob. My mother and I met Master Ibn-Khaldun near the castle. He sent me here and told you to hurry.”
“Today? Khajen’s back?” Ríg said excitedly, before checking the table again. His face hardened with resolve. “That’s wonderful. Wonderful. Hold on a moment while I sort these herbs. I was just heading back to the infirmary, so we’ll go together.”
Jacob watched as Ríg decided on two bottles, secreting them into a leather satchel on the table and walking to one of the cabinets. He pulled one bottle after another from some slim drawers, murmuring to himself, “Mandrake, henbane…ah, there’s the hemlock. Hartstongue, other poultice supplies — no, no time for that. There’s the camphor. Excellent.”
The knight grabbed two leather pouches from a recessed shelf, a deep blue vial filled with a milky substance, and a handful of what appeared to be dried weeds. After all the supplies were stored into the satchel, he lifted the blankets and looked at Jacob.
“Do you mind carrying these?”
“No, not at all,” Jacob said, grateful to be of use. He cradled the blankets in his arms and watched as Ríg picked up another satchel that had been out of sight behind the table.
“Let’s go,” Ríg said.
“Are those your birds?” Jacob asked, astonishment in his voice as he looked past Ríg to the enormous window. Ríg followed the boy’s gaze. Tall wooden shutters opened inward to let sunlight and morning air into the study, but those panels now framed two gigantic ravens perched on the stone slabs of the sill.
Both youths were taken aback by the waist-high size of the black-feathered raptors. The birds were still as statues, their corvine eyes deliberately challenging the human beings in the room, their threat tangible with their curved beaks large enough to slice a man in half or easily split a person’s leg in two.
Jacob’s admiration shifted to terror as the ravens burst screaming into the chamber.
[End Excerpt by A.J. Carlisle]
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The Codex Lacrimae, Part 1: The Mariner’s Daughter & Doomed Knight
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The Codex Lacrimae, Part 2: The Book of Tears