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"LUCK, sidi, a girl from Feringhistan—fit for the "harem of a king—and only a thousand dinars—a thousand—"

The auctioneer's bleary eyes shifted toward a. lean Turk who was licking his thin lips. "Nine hundred?" he wheedled. "Nine hundred, and Allah make you happy?"

The Turk shrugged. Captive women were plentiful as fleas in Cairo since Saladin had carved his way to the throne of Syria and Egypt. Though this one was different, in her white, frozen loveliness.

Hussayn, the auctioneer, whisked the mantle from the girl's shoulders, leaving her clad only in her unbound hair. It trailed to her hips, a red-gold veil that almost hid her white breasts-though their roundness was kissed by the late afternoon light that lanced past the minarets of the El Azhar Mosque. The ruddy light gilded her sleek legs, accented the exquisite modelling of her face.

She was too proud to shrink from the eyes and hands that would go over her loveliness as though she were a horse put through its paces.

"Eight hundred?" pleaded Hussayn. "The daughter of an infidel prince, Allah burn him! Taken from a galley bound for Akka!"

The buyers were dubious. Her haughty green eyes warned them that she would be a handful to manage.

"Bound for Akka?" rumbled a broad-shouldered man whose peaked helmet towered over the kinky heads of the tall Sudanese guards. His hawk face was bronzed and arrogant. The eyes that narrowed beneath his dark brows were granite gray, not the smouldering black of the lean Arabs about him.

"Ay, wallah! The galley of Henri de Montfried."

The tall man thrust himself a pace forward, and the auctioneer pleaded, "Seven hundred dinars, my lord emir! See those white arms—a mouth like a pomegranate blossom—"

Poetry dripped from Hussayn's lips, and fire raced through the veins of Jehan de Courtenai, the tall spy from the Crusaders' outpost at Kerak. Her beauty was like exalting music, making him almost forget the chatelaine whose fickle fancy had sent him to ?nd oblivion in the Holy Land. And she was a Christian, this girl on the auction block, stripped for the eyes of greasy merchants, rapacious money lenders, grim-faced mamluks of the sultan's guard.

Jehan de Courtenai's duty was plain: to move on, continue his gaming, drinking, jesting, listening to voices of Cairo to learn what troops El Adel was sending into Syria to join Saladin. But he could not so easily abandon this red-haired girl.

"Five hundred, and you are robbing me." After five years in the service of fierce old Raynald de Chatillon, he had learned enough about the East to bargain. Immediate acceptance would have betrayed him.

"Six hundred, and my children starve," groaned Hussayn.

But the payment of even sixty diners would have left de Courtenai without a dirhem for the next day's bread. He had a horse and arms. He could sell them, ambush some drunken mamluk and get fresh equipment. And he could leave Cairo that very night; he had El Adel's plans—

"Done, and Allah blacken you!" He dug into his purse. "Take this—in earnest—I bring the rest tonight—"

The auctioneer fondled the gold pieces. A step brought de Courtenai to the girl's side. He spoke a few words in lingua franca—a coarse jest that the crowd relished. Under cover of their laughter, he whispered in French, "Tonight we go to your father's friends in Akka."

He saw understanding in her green eyes. She knew now that he was a countryman, not an infidel Kurd.

HE turned toward the arched gateway of the court, but it was blocked by veiled women and turbanned men who ran down the narrow street. The roll of kettle drums drowned their clamour, and a file of half naked Sudani swordsmen filed around the corner. Tall runners struck right and left with their staves as they shouted, "Way for the Sword of the Faith, Abu Bekr the son of Ayyub of the House of Shahdi!"

These were the titles of Saladin's brother, El Adel, the governor of Egypt. He rode a black horse, and his jet robes made a dark tall splash among the yellow tunics and chain mail of his Turkish guards. De Courteuai salaamed with those who had taken refuge in the gateway. His voice swelled their applause.

Then the column turned, and the heralds dared the gate. De Courtenai, though famed back against the jamb, could not hear what El Adel said to the tall mamluk who rode with him, boot to boot; but the Turkish officer's answer was plain enough: "She is here, in Hussayn's slave pen. On my head and eyes, ya sidi!"

She. De Courtenai's heart froze. The hoof beats of El Adel's horse ceased. A curb chain's tinkle broke the silence. Thus El Adel demanded, "Ya Hussayn! Where is the Feringhi girl—"

"In the corner, my lord!" the mamluk cut in.

"Ay walla!" said Hussayn. "This way, redhead."

El Adel's words seemed like clods dropping into a grave: "Send her to the palace—to Sitti Zayda's apartments." A tinkle of gold. The prince cut off Hussayn's flood of thanks. "And veil her, father of a dog!"

Drums rolled, and the black-robed horseman spurred his splendid beast through the gateway. Mail jingling, the yellow clad mamluks poured after him. El Adel resumed his march to the mosque.

Hussayn whined in de Courtenai's ear, "Sidi, your money—there is no bargain when the brother of the Victorious King buys. But I have other women—"

"Shaytan blacken you!" De Gourtenai stalked down the street.

Who could oppose Saladin's brother? Certainly not a spy who dared not court notice. But this red-haired girl was more than just a Christian captive. De Courtenai's promise had revived her hope. He could not fail her now.

He stepped into the nearby serai, where his horse was waiting. "Saddle up!" he commanded to the groom. "Have him ready!"

SITTI ZAYDA was Saladin's sister. In the morning she was leaving with the caravan bound for Damascus, eight hundred miles away. That much de Courtenai knew from bazaar gossip; nor was the rest difficult to guess. The red-haired girl, sought out by El Adel himself, would go with the caravan; perhaps as Sitti Zayda's serving maid, perhaps as a hostage whose life would be bought with ruinous concessions from her friends.

There was still a way. The way of death and madness.

"Raynald has sent other spies who didn't return!" De Courtenai's laugh was iron as he rode that night toward the palace.

Hard men served Raynald. He could have no other kind; not in that hawlr's nest southeast oi' the Dead Sea, perched on a high hill as a bulwark against the Moslem tide which relentlessly tried to engulf the long, narrow strip of Palestine that the Cross still held against the Crescent. Saladin's power grew day by day, and Raynald cursed the four years' truce which kept him from raiding the caravan trails.

Slowly, cautiously, not a link of his mail complaining, de Courtenai crept to the shadow of a bastion. Wrapped about his waist was a coil of silken cord. With infinite patience, he dug his dagger into the mortar, gouging toe holds. The moon rose above the domed tombs of the Khalifs as he reached the crest of the wall that girdled El Adel's palace.

But the shadow of a minaret reached out with a black band to hide him as he crouched, knotting the cord about a crenellation. And a moment later he was picking his way across a fragrant garden.

The spray of fountains mingled with jasmine. From afar, he heard the call of sentries walking their posts on the walls of the citadel. Presently de Courtenai slipped into the shadow of a pointe...

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