Chapter Nine: The Horses Flame and Smoke
On the following morning, when they came into the eating-room of the inn, Godwin and Wulf found they were no longer alone in the house, for sundry other guests sat there partaking of their morning meal. Among them were a grave merchant of Damascus, another from Alexandria in Egypt, a man who seemed to be an Arab chief, a Jew of Jerusalem, and none other than the English trader Thomas of Ipswich, their fellow-passenger, who greeted them warmly.
Truly they seemed a strange and motley set of men. Considering them as the young and stately widow Masouda moved from one to the other, talking to each in turn while she attended to their wants, it came into Godwin’s mind that they might be spies meeting there to gain or exchange information, or even to make report to their hostess, in whose pay perhaps they were. Still if so, of this they showed no sign. Indeed, for the most part they spoke in French, which all of them understood, on general matters, such as the heat of the weather, the price of transport animals or merchandise, and the cities whither they purposed to travel.
The trader Thomas, it appeared, had intended to start for Jerusalem that morning with his goods. But the riding mule he had bought proved to be lame from a prick in the hoof, nor were all his hired camels come down from the mountains, so that he must wait a few days, or so he said.
Under these circumstances, he offered the brethren his company in their ramblings about the town. This they thought it wise not to refuse, although they felt little confidence in the man, believing that it was he who had found out their story and true names and revealed them to Masouda, either through talkativeness or with a purpose.
However these things might be, this Thomas proved of service to them, since, although he was but just landed, he seemed to know all that had passed in Syria since he left it, and all that was passing then. Thus he told them how Guy of Lusignan had just made himself king in Jerusalem on the death of the child Baldwin, and how Raymond of Tripoli refused to acknowledge him and was about to be besieged in Tiberias. How Saladin also was gathering a great host at Damascus to make war upon the Christians, and many other things, false and true.
In his company, then, and sometimes in that of the other guests— none of whom showed any curiosity concerning them, though whether this was from good manners or for other reasons they could not be sure—the brethren passed the hours profitably enough.
It was on the third morning of their stay that their hostess Masouda, with whom as yet they had no further private talk, asked them if they had not said that they wished to buy horses. On their answering “Yes,” she added that she had told a certain man to bring two for them to look at, which were now in the stable beyond the garden. Thither they went, accompanied by Masouda, to find a grave Arab, wrapped in a garment of camel’s hair and carrying a spear in his hand, standing at the door of the cave which served the purpose of a stable, as is common in the East where the heat is so great. As they advanced towards him, Masouda said: