The hurried whisper caused his eyes to spring open and he looked back down the passage from where the voice called. Sure enough, like hope eternal, there was a small rickety door that he had missed, hidden in the dimness. Slightly ajar, the gap showed a face with long shoulder length hair and soft skin, a mouse peeping out from its burrow. With a quick wave of the hand, the mysterious woman beckoned Ansfroi to enter but he paused all the same, unsure of what to do. Finally, something in the warm eyes, pleasant and trusting, helped make up his mind and he retreated in through the doorway.
Inside, the rescuer who had peered from the door’s shadow looked at him silently with clear, blue eyes that sparkled. Her heart shaped face and hairline could be seen through under the translucent fabric of her ardiya, a cover-all of loose, light cloth that helped reflect Jerusalem’s heat. Its material was slightly worn in several places, like an old carpet that had taken the punishment of a thousand paces, but somehow it seemed to only accentuate her beauty; a grace that lifted Ansfroi’s heart. Her slight lips smiled as he looked on stunned.
“A crusader I take it?”
This voice was from a man who sat cross-legged amongst the cushions. His face was etched with a network of crevices, carved out by the dessert land’s heat. Unlike his daughter’s ardiya, his ridâ’ was worn at the shoulder, wrapped across his body like a toga. His hair was much greyer, barely showing the blackness that painted his daughter’s hair, and his wizened eyes carefully watched the stranger as he placed an olive in his mouth.
“Yes, sir. I thank you for saving me.” It seemed strange to Ansfroi that two Muslims might help out a man such as he, but then the blueness of their eyes and the realisation that their skin was tanned, not born dark, struck the answer home, “You are Christians? From Europe?”
The old man nodded, chewing on the olive with teeth like the craggy rocks that surrounded the city, “My parents came to the city many years ago.”
Ansfroi’s brow frowned in confusion. La Roule had taught him that Jerusalem was home of the infidel Islamic religion and yet here were people of his own culture, God fairing Christians.
Giving a wicked smile at Ansfroi’s perplexed look, with an outstretched arm the old man gestured to the cushions that lay scattered on the floor, inviting the young man to sit. The room itself had little in the way of furniture; leather cushions showing signs that their life was soon to end; a red rug now faded by the sunlight that streamed in through the small windows. In front of the man there stood a low table, no more than a foot from the ground. On its surface several small clay pots held deep black olives, shining in their oils. Nothing was decorative or carved.
“My name is William.” He laughed, “Yes, named after the Bastard, though I assure you I know who my parents are!”
Lowering himself down, Ansfroi placed his sheathed sword by his side, unable to sit with it projecting from his belt. The man William was referring to was the Duke of Normany, of course, the conqueror of his people twenty eight years ago; ten years before his birth.
“There are many Christians and Jews amongst the city. The Fatamids were once a very tolerant people.” At the last words, William’s eyes seemed to show tiredness, “Alas, not anymore.”
“So you are a supporter of the crusade?” He nodded thankfully to William’s daughter as she poured him a small beaker of water. Lifting the drink to his lips, he realised just how dry his mouth was as the cool liquid refreshed him.
William pondered the question for a second, offering Ansfroi a pot of olives, “We are Christians.” Was his simple answer, “And we shall not see those of our religion die so readily.”
Looking at him, Ansfroi nodded with agreement and gratitude. If the crusaders were doing one thing it was dying readily.