The old knight listened, resting on his reddened sword; then he lifted his head, and spoke:
“I am aged and near my death, wine-seller Georgios, or prince El-Hassan, whichever you may be. In my youth I swore to make no pact with Paynims, and in my eld I will not break that vow. While I can lift sword I will defend my daughter, even against the might of Saladin. Get to your coward’s work again, and let things go as God has willed them.”
“Then, Princess,” answered El-Hassan, “bear me witness throughout the East that I am innocent of your father’s blood. On his own head be it, and on yours,” and for the second time he blew upon the whistle that hung around his neck.
Chapter Seven: The Banner of Saladin
As the echoes of Hassan’s whistle died away there was a crash amongst the wooden shutters of the window behind them, and down into the room leaped a long, lithe figure, holding an axe aloft. Before Sir Andrew could turn to see whence the sound came, that axe dealt him a fearful blow between the shoulders which, although the ringed mail remained unshorn, shattered his spine beneath. Down he fell, rolled on to his back, and lay there, still able to speak and without pain, but helpless as a child. For he was paralysed, and never more would move hand or foot or head.
In the silence that followed he spoke in a heavy voice, letting his eyes rest upon the man who had struck him down.
“A knightly blow, truly; one worthy of a Christian born who does murder for Paynim pay! Traitor to God and man, who have eaten my bread and now slaughter me like an ox on my hearth-stone, may your own end be even worse, and at the hands of those you serve.”
The palmer Nicholas, for it was he, although he no longer wore the palmer’s robe, slunk away muttering, and was lost among the crowd in the passage. Then, with a sudden and a bitter cry, Rosamund swooped forward, as a bird swoops, snatched up the sword her sire would never lift again, and setting its hilt upon the floor, cast herself forward. But its point never touched her breast, for the emir sprang swiftly and struck the steel aside; then, as she fell, caught her in his arms. “Lady,” he said, loosing her very gently. “Allah does not need you yet. I have told you that it is not fated. Now will you pass me your word—for being of the blood of Salah-ed-din and D’Arcy, you, too, cannot lie—that neither now nor afterwards you will attempt to harm yourself? If not, I must bind you, which I am loth to do—it is a sacrilege to which I pray you will not force me.”
“Promise, Rosamund,” said the hollow voice of her father, “and go to fulfil your fate. Self-murder is a crime, and the man is right; it is decreed. I bid you promise.”
“I obey and promise,” said Rosamund. “It is your hour, my lord Hassan.”
He bowed deeply and answered:
“I am satisfied, and henceforth we are your servants. Princess, the night air is bitter; you cannot travel thus. In which chamber are your garments?”