Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 32

As he walked through the streets, his sharp eyes taking in the details of the shops and stalls, he wondered what the local penalties for theft were. From what he had heard, there was nowhere in the world that was strict as the Ilkhan. Well, it was said that the Golden Horde were even more traditionalist. If there was anywhere in the world that David did not want to end up, it was in their backyard. Thieving was a dangerous enough way of living in Jerusalem, where he and his family had many contacts and knew the local scene very well. Pilgrims and foreigners could be preyed on, provided one was careful.

What he really needed was a local informant. He picked on a likely looking ragged boy, greeting him. And was rewarded by a high speed stream of incomprehensible gibberish.

Maybe life was going to be a lot more complicated than he’d thought. He felt a bitter sense of resentment and betrayal. Why hadn’t anyone told him foreigners didn’t all speak Frankish?

It was only after the foreign urchin had run off that he realized that his pouch was missing. He swore and ran after the boy, but the boy knew where he was going and David did not. Soon, he was forced to give up the pursuit.

Well, he had wanted to know just what sort of penalties for theft they had here. At a guess, he had just been shown — the hard way. If he ever found the little brat again somebody else would be learning the hard way. Grumpily, he set off to acquire some lunch. To a sharp Jerusalem boy that could hardly be much of a challenge.


Benito was back at his desk in the Castel a Terra when Erik came to see him several hours later. “It’s too soon for me to have word back from Illyria,” he said. “And thanks to you I now can’t find two essential pieces of paper, and my secretary is a gibbering wreck. Besides that, I haven’t heard a word from your Mongol friend.”

“It’s not that,” said the Icelander. “I’ve got Kari out scouring the streets. But if that horseboy has run off into the countryside it might take us weeks to find him.”

“Ah!” Benito leaned back in his chair, and managed not to smile. “I did warn you about killing him, Erik.”

“Neither Kari nor I have laid a finger on him,” protested Erik. “And it’s not because we didn’t want to. But apparently he ran off before we’d even finished talking to the Mongol. Several of the Knots saw him go. None of them had the brains to stop him.”

If Erik was calling the Knights of the Holy Trinity by the derisive term “Knots” he was genuinely furious — and by his expression, worried also.

Benito had long since given up deliberately baiting the likes of Erik Hakkonsen. Danger seemed to seek Benito out, without him going looking for it. “Relax, Erik.”

“I’ll need some help, Benito. A word with some of your Schiopettieri, and possibly the loan of some of your troops.”

“I said, relax. I already sent a messenger down to your vessel. You must have missed him by a few moments. I have your runaway horseboy. He will need to be a little faster and sharper, if he’s going to cope with being a thief in the big city. He can’t even cope with swiping bread and squid on Corfu. I’m tempted to give him a few lessons myself. In the meantime, I’m just doing for him what you and Petro Dorma did for me. He’s enjoying a little bit of a frightener in my cells. I have a few of the lads yelling at him in Greek.”

Erik shook his head as if to clear it. “Yelling in Greek? Why?”

“I figure that I owe him something for nearly causing an international diplomatic incident. And if you think I’m being too harsh, the boy can count himself lucky to still have his fingers and face intact. Stealing anything from Mamma Kasagolis is just plain stupid. If a patrol hadn’t been passing by at the time he’d have been beaten half to death. As it was, he did acquire a few lumps before they figured out that he really wasn’t able to understand Greek. They brought him here, because as the Podesta I deal with foreigners. I figured out that he was your horseboy, but I pretended not to understand a word he said. So what do you want to do with him? You can collect him now, if you like.”

Erik began to laugh. He laughed until he had to sit down. When eventually he got his breath back, he shook his head. “The Mongols virtually stamped out crime when they conquered Outremer a couple of hundred years back. This brat is undoubtedly what passes for a thief in Jerusalem. He might even be quite good at it by the standards of a city without much crime. I think he’s experiencing some culture shock. Can you have your men lead him out and show him the gallows?”

Benito raised his eyebrows. “Don’t you think that’s a bit much?”

“No, I don’t. It’s going to be a while before he gets back to Jerusalem. There are a good few places where he could get himself into just that much trouble, or get us into it. I don’t have the skills to teach him to be a thief who can survive, and you don’t have the time. So I will have to frighten him into a bit of honesty, at least for a while.”

Benito smothered a smile. “And this has nothing to do with him teaching you that a respectful greeting is ‘your mother is a tortoise’. You know, it could have been much worse. He could have had you — or in this case me — proposing some form of interesting sexual liaison.”

“Then I would not just have had you show him the gallows. He could have tried on the noose for size,” said Erik grimly. “I think you can let him spend the night ornamenting your cells. Kari and I will come and fetch him early in the morning.”

“I’ll temper justice with mercy,” said Benito, nodding. “I’ll have someone explain to him that the gallows will be where he’s heading, unless someone from the ship is prepared to come and take him away. That’ll give him some reason to be grateful when you do turn up. It’s more than he would have gotten in most port cities.”

Erik snorted. “He’d be lucky not to have ended up dead in an alley in quite a lot of them. At the very least someone would have knocked him on the head, and slit his pouch.”

“I gather,” said Benito with a laugh, “by his plaintive complaints and protestations, all of which I pretended not to understand, that someone did relieve him of his pouch. He is taken aback by the dishonesty of us foreigners and how we victimize visitors.”

“Isn’t it strange,” said Erik, with a smile, “how the biter seldom likes to be bitten?”

“It does give you a different perspective on it,” admitted Benito. “Not that it works as a perfect cure for everyone. People are inclined to see things from their own point of view, regardless.”

“It worked on you,” said Erik. “But then, you always were almost too smart for your own good, Benito.” He smiled as he said it.

Benito shrugged. “Anyway, you’d better take this, if you’re going to take that horseboy with you.” He held out a slim book.

“What is it?” asked Erik, a little suspiciously.

Benito did his best to look aggrieved, in a saintly sort of way. “Why does everyone always think the worst of me? It is a book of Mongol-Frankish translations from old Belmondo’s library. Some common words and phrases. And the same in their script.”

“I’ll show it to the boy and tell him he has to be a bit more careful now,” said Erik, taking the book.

Benito sighed. “Erik, the time you’ve spent with the Knights of the Holy Trinity is affecting your thinking. Don’t even think of showing him the book. You let him go on teaching you. But you check the words yourself, with the book he doesn’t know you have. And then you make him say them to one of the Mongols, if they don’t quite match the book.”

Erik raised his eyebrows. “You’re starting to make the Old Fox look positively straightforward.”

“It’s so obvious,” said Benito, shaking his head.