Set back from the Nile on the east side of the river by more than half a league, the Monastery of the Visitation stood at the edge of the desolation of the desert. Not unlike the village between the monastery and the river, it was a collection of stark, mud-brick buildings surrounded by a thick stone wall that enclosed simple herb-gardens, a stand of trees, a mill, a chapel, a church, a scriptorium, a dormitory, and a well. Two small barns, a small stable, three pens, and a paddock were attached to the outside of the wall. The place smelled of dust and dung and the restless, relentless sands that poured over the ridge behind the monastery, slowly and inexorably besieging it, promising with every wind that it eventually would press on to the village and its fields, covering the monastery and its grounds as it moved.
In the far corner of the enclosure, nearest the encroaching dunes, in the thickest of three spinneys of broad-leaved sycamore trees, there was a two-room house where the foreigner and his foreign servant had lived since their arrival, away from the monks and the pilgrims, though the leader of the monastery made it a habit to visit Rakoczy, Sidi Sandjer’min, once a day before sunset. This evening the monks would dance and chant to celebrate the coming of the Twelve Magi, and that would mean Sandjer’min would have to remain inside, for only Copts could witness the ritual.
A hint of a breeze was coming off the Nile and making its languid way around the monastery when Aba’yam came to the remote house late in the afternoon of Epiphany, a little earlier than usual; he was walking slowly, favoring his right foot. He was a square-built man of forty-four, with a formidable beard going white, an aquiline nose that made his eyes seem deeper than they were, and two deep lines running from his thick eyebrows toward his receding hairline; his ears were large and stuck out from his head like the handles on a pot. He was dressed in a simple hooded habit of dark-brown wool with only his pectoral crucifix to show his position of leadership. He blessed himself before he crossed the threshold, and found Ruthier, Sandjer’min’s manservant, at his tall work-table, an array of herbs on drying mats spread out across it. “God give you a good evening, foreigner,” he said in the language of his people.
“And you,” Ruthier answered, turning around to face his visitor; his Coptic was a bit stilted; he had not learned the language until he had been with Sandjer’min for five centuries, and had not ever become easy with it. He wiped his hands on one of a stack of cotton cloths at the edge of the table. “Have the Thessalonians gone?” He set another raised, woven mat on the table and began to sort out a knot of feathery leaves. Behind him on the wall hung many bunches of herbs already dried and wrapped in twine.
“They will stay in the village tonight and take a boat down-river in the morning,” said Aba’yam. “I came to thank the Sidi for translating their words for us. He was most helpful to us, and to them.”
“He was pleased to do it,” Ruthier answered, a bit surprised that Aba’yam would want to talk with him. “They went a long way to the south, those Greeks.”
“As many pilgrims are doing since the Egyptian Crusade ended,” said Aba’yam. “We’re likely to see more returning pilgrims between now and the Mass of Resurrection; then their numbers will diminish through the heat of summer and increase again as the nights grow long.”
“Hardly unusual: the summers turn this land into an oven,” said Ruthier.
“We see fewer Orthodox Christians on pilgrimages than Roman ones; I suppose it’s because the Crusaders are Roman Christians for the most part.” He glanced around the room. “The Sidi is out?” He was used to seeing Ruthier in the house, making preparations for his evening meal, or sorting herbs as he was doing now, but to have Sidi Sandjer’min away was disconcerting.
“Yes. He’ll be back shortly,” said Ruthier. “I’ll be pleased to send him to you when he returns, or you may wait here until he comes, whichever suits your purpose.” He did not add that Sandjer’min had gone down to the river, for that might lead to questions that would trouble Aba’yam.
“No matter. I was only surprised not to see him.” Aba’yam folded his hand atop his crucifix. “I was hoping to get more of that unguent for my foot; the wound is slow to heal, and it keeps me from dancing with the monks. The Sidi has eased its discomfort before, and I trust he will do so again.” He pressed his lips together. “Furthermore, there is the matter of the Sultan’s messengers.”
“The men who came this morning?” Ruthier continued to create order with his collection of drying mats and their contents.
“Yes.” He paused, uncertain if he should go on. When he could not make up his mind, he said, “But, also, I’ve come to ask that neither he nor you leave this house during our celebration of Epiphany.” He had given the same warning at every outdoor celebration in the eighteen months the two foreigners had lived there. “You are not Copts, and though you show us great respect, it is not fitting that you should be with us for our rites. You cannot dance with us, and we do not want observers here while we celebrate.”
“I understand; the Sidi and I have observed your Rule before and will now,” said Ruthier. “You may be at rest. My master has not gone far; if for some reason he is delayed, he will remain outside the walls until you have finished your celebration of Epiphany, and treat your foot then.”
“I am most thankful,” said Aba’yam. “What have you there on your table?”
“Herbs for medicaments,” said Ruthier, moving so that Aba’yam could see them.
“To treat what ailments?” Aba’yam inquired with interest.
“This”—he held up a thick-leaved dark-green mass of leaves—“will diminish fever and help clear the skin when made into a paste. And this”—he pointed to a handful of bulbous pods laid out on another raised mat—“will ease pain and help reduce panting for those with gasping sickness. It is not to be given to pregnant women.”
“Poppy syrup. He has given the monastery a good supply.” He pulled the larger of the two chairs in the room a bit nearer to the work-table and sat down.
“This is used for cough and wet lungs. This is for problems with the eyes. This is for women with severe monthly bleeding. This helps burns to heal. This relieves itching. This restores the eyes when they are tired. This clears the bowels. This reduces inflamation of the joints. This will settle the digestion. This and this in equal portion stops sores on the skin. This will relieve sore muscles. This is for teething infants. This eases sleep. This treats insect bites. This with this mixed together draws putresences.” He pointed to a jar. “There’s moldy bread in there, from which my master makes his sovereign remedy, which he keeps secure in his medicaments chest.”
“But nothing for the bite of a mad dog, or for a cobra’s venom,” said Aba’yam, sighing. “If we had such medicaments, we could save so many from a suffering death. It is always hard to see such suffering before death.”
“If I had such medicaments, you would have them as well,” said Sidi Sandjer’min, coming through the door bearing a pair of jars filled with water from the Nile hanging from a wooden pole on his shoulder. His black linen short-sleeved cotehardie was damp around its calf-length hem; his heavy-soled Persian boots were wet, and there was a smear of mud on the back of his left hand. Unlike the monks’, his dark hair was cut short, and his attractive face was clean-shaven. “When I first started to learn to heal, I had a woman come to me who had been bitten by a mad dog. Nothing I tried could help her, and nothing I have used since can stop the madness the bite brings, or the death.” That had been more than twenty-seven centuries ago, but the experience could still bring a sense of failure to him.
This revelation troubled Aba’yam, so rather than pursue so discouraging a matter, he offered a standard greeting. “God give you a good evening, Sidi,” he said, rising and blessing the Sidi.
“And to you,” said Sandjer’min, inclining his head and showing his palms as he had learned to do in the Temple of Imhotep, more than twenty-seven centuries ago; this ancient courtesy amused Aba’yam.
“Some day you must tell me where you learned that form of greeting,” said Aba’yam, shaking his head.
“I learned it here, in Egypt,” said Sandjer’min, setting down the wooden pole and bending to retrieve the jars. He did not add that the time he was remembering was more than a thousand years ago.
Aba’yam laughed. “If you insist,” he said, glancing toward the open window. “Our rite will last through sunset and into night so long as the wind doesn’t rise.” He coughed diplomatically. “I was hoping you might have a salve for my foot, before the ceremony begins. I prefer to dance than limp.”
“I do.” He turned to Ruthier. “In my red-lacquer chest, the chalcedony jar with the dragon on the lid, and three lengths of linen.”
“At once,” said Ruthier, and went into the second room.
“During your rite, Ruthier and I will remain here,” Sandjer’min agreed; he wiped his hands on a damp linen towel that hung at the end of the work-table. “We will not leave this house until your chanting is over.”
Aba’yam cleared his throat and spat. “The Sultan is worried about the warriors from the East, for it is said no army can stand against them. Great kingdoms fall to their horsemen every year, and they are coming westward,” he went on apologetically. “The Sultan is ordering the young men in the village to join his troops to defend this land from the might of—the name escapes me.”
“Jenghiz Khan,” said Sandjer’min; images of T’en Chih-Yu filled his mind, and her appalling death at Mongol hands, a little more than a decade ago.
“That is the name,” Aba’yam said, relieved that the foreigner knew.
Ruthier returned with the jar and two rolls of linen and handed them to Sandjer’min. “Do you need anything else? The rest of the cloth is in the clothes-chest.”
“Not just at present,” said Sandjer’min. He took a clean length of cotton and knelt before Aba’yam. “If you will raise your habit so I can see your foot?”
“You will find it a little puffy,” Aba’yam warned.
“Um,” Sandjer’min said, lifting both feet to make a comparison. “Have you been soaking it as I have recommended?”
“Not as often as would be wise, but as often as I can spare an hour to do it,” Aba’yam said. “At this time of year, the holy feasts demand my presence; there are so many observances, celebrations, and rites…”
Sandjer’min removed the sandal on the swollen foot, wiped it with the cotton cloth, and examined it closely; the small, open puncture on his heel was dark-red around the edges, and some bits of skin were sloughing off. The top of the foot felt spongy, like dough, yielding easily to touch, and marked deeply with the impressions of his sandal-lacings. “You need to soak this more often, using water from the well, not the river, and with the tincture I gave you added to the water.” He wiped the foot again, more thoroughly. “It has heat in the flesh and there is an odor of skin putrescence.”
“How long will it take to heal?” Aba’yam did his best to sound unconcerned about the answer.
“It’s difficult to say; you are on your feet much of the day, and that slows your recovery; if you could lie abed for half the day, the wound would be likely to close,” Sandjer’min answered, opening the chalcedony jar and scooping out a little of the honey-colored contents; it smelled a bit like camphor and a bit like mustard, and it slipped down Sandjer’min’s fingers to his palm. As he smoothed the unguent over Aba’yam’s heel, he said, “Tonight, after your final prayers, I would like you to soak your foot for as long as you can bear it in heated water with double the usual amount of tincture.”
“That may be difficult; our Rule requires that we go to sleep immediately after final prayers.”
“Surely God won’t mind if you take time to treat the wound on your foot,” Sandjer’min said. “And you are Aba’yam. You can allow yourself to do this.”
“That would be lax in me, so I cannot do it, for I must set the example for all the monks here,” said Aba’yam. “I am Aba’yam, and the monks are sworn to me. For as long as I am Aba’yam, I am as much their servant as their leader. To set such a poor example—no. I could not.” There was no pride in this statement: Aba’yam was the name all the monks promoted to the position of Superior took upon their election to the post, and it became both their title and their identity within the monastery; it brought with it both authority and responsibilities. This Aba’yam was the ninth to hold that name and title.
“I understand that,” said Sandjer’min, “but I have my duty to perform as well as you: if you continue to walk on this heel without soaking it, you risk getting a severe putrescence that could eventually require the removal of your foot.”
“Flesh is weak,” said Aba’yam, watching Sandjer’min wrap his foot. “I will try to do as you recommend,” he said in another, more resigned, tone.
“Very good,” said Sandjer’min, knotting the end of the second strip of linen to the first and going on with bandaging Aba’yam’s heel.
While Sandjer’min worked, Aba’yam said, “The Sultan’s men said they will return after the Inundation to gather more young men for Malik-al-Kamil’s army unless the Mongols stop their advancement, which would mean moving troops from their present locations in order to fortify the eastern frontiers. He is also concerned about foreigners in Egypt, his messengers told me. Now that the most recent Crusade is over, he is anxious to restore his sovereignty from the Second Cataract to Alexandria, and to spread Islam everywhere.”
Ruthier looked up from his drying plants. “You say the Sultan is worried about foreigners: does that include European foreigners? Do Europeans trouble him?”
“Yes. His messengers told me he believes that Europeans still in this land, unless they are religious, are spies and criminals, or men willing to be suborned by the agents of the Mongols, who must surely be in Egypt by now. The Sultan has declared that he cannot allow Egypt to be drawn into another Crusade at a time when other foes are moving against us.” Aba’yam made a gesture to show that he did not share the Sultan’s belief. “With the Mongols approaching, he may decide that all foreigners must leave, and on short notice.”
“Is that the current rumor?” Sandjer’min asked, feeling suddenly very tired; he had seen the same response to the Mongol invaders in China a dozen years before, and finally had traveled into the Land of Snows in search of safety. He finished the bandage and tied it off. “There. You may put on your sandal now.”
“It is what the Sultan’s men told us,” said Aba’yam as he picked up his sandal and set it in place along his sole, then took up the laces and secured them while he went on, “I have no desire for you to leave; between your knowledge of medicaments and your facility with languages, I would be pleased to have you here for as long as you wish to remain, but that may not always be my decision to make. For the most part the Sultan has left us alone, as he has left the Jews alone, but if there should be another Crusade, or the Mongols get nearer, then—” He shrugged. “It is in the hands of God.”
A rattle of the shutters revealed the shift in the wind; it had swung around and now came off the desert, bringing a steady trickle of sand with it.
Sandjer’min nodded his understanding. “So it hinges on Jenghiz Khan: again.” He wondered where he would have to go this time.
Aba’yam got to his feet and turned his hands toward Heaven. “It hinges on God’s Will,” he corrected his foreign guests. “May you receive the gifts of Epiphany,” he said, blessing Sandjer’min and then Ruthier. After a formal gesture of farewell, he left the little house, going out into the deepening sunset to join his monks in their celebration.
“How bad is his foot?” Ruthier asked in Imperial Latin.
“Bad enough. If he had the Bending Sickness, it would be worse, but not by much. However he got that puncture, it isn’t mending properly. There may be something lodged in it which ought to be removed,” Sandjer’min answered in the same tongue.
“Would Aba’yam allow that?”
“I don’t know. He would have to be in more pain than he is now, but he would heal in time, and the pain would fade. If he stays as he is, the pain will persist.” He took the cotton cloth he had used to wipe Aba’yam’s foot. “This will need to be washed in boiling water with astringent herbs.” He had learned that from the Romans when Nero was Caesar and had found that it did help to contain the spread of putrescences.
“I will do it in the morning, when the dancing is over. Do you want me to draw water from the well or the river?” Ruthier asked.
“The well. At this time of year, the river teams with animacules. Once the Inundation comes, the animacules will disperse, but for now, they are increasing. That’s why I brought those jars here, so I may test the water to learn which of the animacules are present. I can treat the well-water to keep it clear, but not the Nile.”
Outside the first droning chants accompanied the lighting of torches around the front of the monastery’s chapel, where the monks would dance to exhaustion. The ragged flames leaped and fluttered at every gust of wind.
Ruthier almost smiled. “How many leagues do you suppose they walk in that dance-circle?”
“By the end of the rite? Perhaps three or a bit more.” Sandjer’min thought back to the many processions he had witnessed in his centuries at the Temple of Imhotep, and saw echoes of those in the stately dance of these monks: right foot forward, left foot up behind, a slow turn to the right on the ball of the right foot, when the rotation was complete, left foot forward, right foot up behind, a slow turn to the left on the ball of the left foot, always moving in a large circle, the sequence repeated for hours, accompanied by the chanting of gospels and psalms.
“Most of the new-gathered herbs are sorted, and ready for hanging,” Ruthier said when Sandjer’min remained silent. “I have a plucked chicken, and I’m about to eat. Is there anything you need me to do first?”
“No,” said Sandjer’min, reaching for the tall stool in the corner and pulling it to the work-table. “For now I’m going to spend a little time making up medicaments.”
“Do you need anything for that?” Ruthier inquired.
“No; I have wool-fat to use in ointments, palm oil for infusions, olive oil for lotions, honey for unguents, and will gather eggs for poultices, as I need them.” He gave a half-smile, his dark eyes somber. “Enjoy your meal.”
Ruthier took flint-and-steel and lit the rush-lamp that hung over the work-table. “There. The monks expect you to need light for your tasks.” He knew Sandjer’min well enough not to question the reason for his sudden reticence; the prospect of having to travel again during the year ahead was making him fretful.
“It may be a long night,” Sandjer’min said. “Last year they chanted and danced until well past midnight.”
“They danced until dawn before the Paschal Mass,” said Ruthier. “Only half the night for the Feast of the Martyrdom of the Baptist.”
“And for the Annunciation,” said Sandjer’min, looking toward the door with mild curiosity. “I don’t think they will go on so long tonight.”
“Why?” asked Ruthier.
“There is a wind coming up, from the east, and that will blow sand into the monastery grounds. That cannot be a good surface for dancing. As the monks grow tired, they may slip and fall.” He set the second latch on the shutters, and the rattling stopped.
Ruthier considered this. “I don’t know. Monks aren’t the same as holy-day worshipers; if it serves their faith, they will undertake all manner of demanding acts. A little sand in the courtyard would not be enough to stop them.” He ducked his head. “I will be finished with the chicken in a little while. If you have need of me then—”
“Yes, I know; I will call you; but I doubt that I will. Go along and enjoy your meal, and afterward, rest if you like.” He nodded in the direction of the second room.
Ruthier put his right hand to the center of his chest, then turned away.
Over the next hour the wind rose, going from a whispered tapping to a persistent drubbing; Sandjer’min sat at his work-table grinding dried herbs and mixing them with various oils and honeys, distantly aware of the monks chanting from the Gospel of Thomas, “I am the dancer and the dance. I am the singer and the song. I am the way and the wayfarer. I am the lamp and the flame,” and other verses from the millennium-old text. By midnight the wind was promising a sandstorm, and the monks were chanting less steadily in the irregular torchlight; Sandjer’min watched through the small gap in the largest shutters—luckily facing away from the wind—as the monks slowly circled in front of their chapel, their steps unsteady, their voices more harsh than when they began. He could see that the wind was taking a toll on them, and wished he could recommend they cease their rite for now, but knew his intrusion would not be tolerated. “There’ll be sprained ankles tomorrow,” he said to the room. “And dust-coughs.” With a fatalistic sigh, he went and set out the medicaments he would need to treat the monks in the morning.
But the morning brought higher winds and more drifting sands; the monks kept to the chapel until mid-day, when they huddled into a group to scuttle to the refectory, where a meal of lentil soup and simple bread awaited them.
“The nights are growing shorter,” Ruthier observed as he swept the sandy floor with a broom of stiff reeds.
“And will do so for the next six months, less ten days,” said Sandjer’min, pausing in his on-going work of labeling his medicaments.
“True enough,” said Ruthier. “It will be easier to travel in the dark of the year.”
“I’ll send word down-river to Kerem-al-Gamil to see how trading is going now that the Crusaders are gone. He should be able to give us some useful information.” There was a grim note in his voice; Ruthier knew why.
“Do you mean to travel by water?” Ruthier asked, his usually impassive face revealing his shock; Sandjer’min rarely boarded boats, for crossing running or tidal water was an ordeal for him that left him almost immobilized if he endured it for more than a day.
“If necessary.” Sandjer’min extended his hand to a knot of dried reeds, removing them from their hook. “I’d prefer to hire a messenger.”
“There are roads to Alexandria,” Ruthier reminded him.
“There are,” he agreed, putting the reeds on a chopping board. “But getting away from Egypt may require speed, and that means the Nile.” He took up a knife, but paused to add, “Fortunately we do not have to decide now. Though it would probably be sensible to leave at the end of the summer, when the heat isn’t so extreme.”
“The nights are longer, as well,” said Ruthier, and swept himself and the sand out the door into the shade of the sycamores.
“They are,” Sandjer’min agreed; he finished writing on the jars he had filled the night before, then went to an iron-bound chest in the corner, opened it, and removed a sheet of vellum, a vial of ink, and a broad-tipped Persian stylus with which to write.
“Kerem or Olivia?” Ruthier asked as he came back inside.
“Kerem,” said Sandjer’min, setting his supplies on the corner of the work-table. “I’ll write to Olivia when I have decided where we are to go, and when. I have no desire to cause her anxiety.”
Ruthier gave a rare chuckle. “She’ll chastise you for making her worry.”
“That she will,” Sandjer’min conceded with a faint smile. “And no doubt I’ll deserve it.”
Ruthier nodded, then said, “There is a great deal of sand inside the walls. I’d like to spend the afternoon shoveling as much as I can out of the monastery’s grounds.”
“You don’t need my permission to do that,” Sandjer’min said, amusement in his tone.
“Possibly not, but the monks will want to know,” Ruthier responded as he went to get his shovel from the tall cabinet near the table.
As soon as Ruthier was out the door, Sandjer’min opened the vial of ink and set it at an angle in a wooden stand made for it. He was cleaning the broad point of the stylus when he heard someone calling, “Sidi! Sidi! Come at once!” He got off his stool and went to open the door, shading his eyes with his hand against the sunlight.
A young monk was standing there, his face worn from the previous night’s celebration. “It’s Aba’yam,” he said without any greeting. “His foot is swelling, it stinks, and his face is red.”
Sandjer’min nodded. “I will bring my medicaments. Where is he?”
“In the chapel. He stayed there to pray when the rest of us went to eat. He said he wasn’t hungry.”
“That’s unfortunate,” said Sandjer’min, stepping back inside the house; in the second room he opened his red-lacquer chest, where he took down three jars and two rolls of bandages. Then he took a vial of opalescent liquid from a drawer set under the shelves, and put all these things in a small leather case. He closed and latched the chest, then went back to the monk. “You are…”
“If you will come with me?” Sandjer’min saw the young monk wince.
“I should.” He swallowed. “I will.”
Sandjer’min stepped outside and pulled his door closed; the weight of the sun struck him with the force of a blow, and he was once again grateful that Ruthier had taken care to replace his native earth in the soles of his Persian boots just two days ago. “The chapel, you say? Not the Church?”
“Yes.” Dinat started off down the gentle incline; every step kicked up sand, and he had to steady himself twice to keep from falling.
“Tell me,” Sandjer’min asked as he kept up with Dinat, “when did this begin for Aba’yam?”
“He was limping at Mass this morning,” Dinat told him. “He had trouble dancing toward the end of the rite.”
“I don’t suppose he soaked his foot afterward, or do you know?”
“I am not aware of it.” They had passed the refectory and were almost at the chapel. “I had to feed the goats this morning; he might have done it then.”
“It doesn’t seem likely,” Sandjer’min said.
Dinat shook his head, and hurried ahead to open the chapel door for Sandjer’min, his eyes flicking nervously. “Near the altar, out of the light,” he said, standing aside to permit Sandjer’min to pass.
The interior of the chapel was dark but for a pool of light beneath the square dome atop it; heavy, greenish glass let in sunlight through this oculus, but lent it an underwater quality. The altar itself was shadowed but for the lamp that hung over it, providing faint illumination to the Coptic crucifix at its center.
Aba’yam was lying in a heap at the base of the altar, his knees drawn up to his chest, his arms encircling his knees. He was reciting prayers rapidly; his eyes were squinched shut, and his face was plum-colored. As Sandjer’min approached him, he let out a little cry and sketched a blessing in his direction. “God is merciful,” he said as Sandjer’min knelt beside him. “Praise Him for His mercy.”
“From what Dinat told me, this is more a worldly problem, or a fleshly one.” He helped Aba’yam to unfold himself, saying over his shoulder to Dinat, “Go and get a bucket of water from the well and have the cooks boil it, then bring it to me while it is hot. Do you understand?”
“I will do it,” Dinat said, and left the chapel with alacrity.
“My foot has swollen,” Aba’yam said.
“So I gather,” said Sandjer’min as he pulled back the hem of Aba’yam’s habit, revealing the unbandaged foot, distorted now by massive swelling in the arch, heel, and ankle. “Why did you unwrap it?”
“It hurt,” said Aba’yam, regarding Sandjer’min with fretful eyes.
“And no doubt it is more painful now,” said Sandjer’min, bending over him and inspecting the inflamed injury. “When did this begin?”
“Mid-way through our dancing.” He stifled a cry as Sandjer’min gently touched the puffiest part of his foot; a drool of yellow pus seeped out of the puncture in his heel.
“You would have done better to leave the wrappings in place,” said Sandjer’min, bracing him so he could sit up.
“I realize that,” Aba’yam said. “I am very hot.”
“You have a fever. I will give you something for it in a moment, and then I will deal with your foot.” When he had wiped away the pus from the wound, he opened his case and pulled out the vial of pale liquid. “I want you to drink this. I’ll bring you more later on today.” He broke the wax seal and removed the stopper, then handed it to Aba’yam. “Drink all of it. It is the sovereign remedy.” As he handed the vial to Aba’yam, he felt the heat in his palms. “I’ve been told that it doesn’t taste very good.”
“So many medicaments don’t,” said Aba’yam, and drank, pursing his lips against the remedy’s sourness.
“As soon as Dinat brings the hot water, you will soak your foot; I’ll add salts to the water to help draw out the putrescence. Then I’ll dress the wound with linen that is spread with willow, hyssop, and pansy, to lessen the pain and promote healing. Tomorrow I will give you syrup of poppies, and then I’ll search the injury to discover if there is anything remaining in the wound that is causing this putrescence. If there is, I will remove it, and close the wound with silken threads.” He had brought a good supply with him on his return from India, but he was careful not to squander it; with Jenghiz Khan marauding along the Silk Road, Sandjer’min did not know when he would be able to get more of such quality.
“That will mean I won’t be able to walk for some time,” Aba’yam said, his frown deepening.
“No, not for many weeks, and you will have to soak it daily until the swelling is gone and the wound is healed, but if we are diligent, you will keep your foot,” Sandjer’min told him levelly.
“There is no other way?” Aba’yam sighed as Sandjer’min shook his head. “If you must, you must.”
Sandjer’min moved a bit so that Aba’yam could lean on him, and took more containers out of his case, trying to decide how best to proceed; it would take time for Aba’yam to recover, and that could keep the Sidi at the monastery well into summer to tend Aba’yam through it. If the wound continued unhealed, and the monks blamed Sandjer’min for it, he and Ruthier would have to be gone sooner, traveling in the long days of oppressive heat. “I must,” he said.
* * *
Text of a letter from Wilem van Groet, farrier with French forces remaining in Egypt after the Fifth Crusade ended, to Emmerico Cammaro, Captain of the Venetian ship Diadem, both at Alexandria, written in Church Latin on papyrus and delivered the day after it was dictated to Frater Giordano.
To the great Captain Emmerico Cammaro, of the trading ship Diadem, the greetings of Wilem van Groet, farrier, presently residing in Alexandria, on this, the third day of February in the 1225th Year of Grace,
Most esteemed Captain Cammaro,
I am hoping you will read this and give me the honor of your attention: as you know, Malik-al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt, has asked all foreigner residents of Alexandria, with the sole exceptions of merchants living in the walled quarter and religious pilgrims, to leave this country by the Vernal Equinox, or face imprisonment until the threats to the country have gone.
I am among those who will have to depart by then, being neither merchant nor pilgrim. Since I came here as a volunteer with the French knights, they are not obliged to aid me in returning home, and they have said that they can do nothing to assist me, which would mean I will have to find a band of pilgrims returning to Europe by ship, or try to travel overland through the summer; unless you are willing to allow me to go aboard your ship as far as the Serenissima Reppublica, the great port of Venezia, I will starve or be taken captive when I try to return through the regions held by Islamites.
As a farrier, I am a capable metal-worker and would be pleased to bring my forge and put it to your use on the seas. I have many years of experience to offer you in regard to smithing. I can repair all manner of metal objects, from cooking stoves to runners for block-and-tackle, to batons for hold-covers. I am capable of doing other work as well, no matter how humble. I have very little money, but my back is strong, and I would be at your service for the whole of the voyage. The reason I am appealing to you is that I have heard that your company, the Eclipse Trading Company, has accepted such arrangements in the past; I hope you will do so now.
It is seven years since I have seen my home and my family. You are one of the few Captains who have extended themselves to men in my position in the past. You are scheduled to depart in three days. If you consent to take me aboard, send me word by the messenger who carries this, and I will present myself to you before sundown with my possessions, such as they are, and my pledge of honest labor. I ask you to consider my request with the concern that all Christians should have for one another.
With my most sincere prayers for your travels and the hope that I will travel with you,
Wilem van Groet
by the hand of Frater Giordano, Trinitarian
Copyright © 2013 by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro