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    Just as the skylarks, finches, swallows and swifts greeted the new day with their distinctive songs, so too the crowd now began to mutter in a range of voices: prayers whispered in all the languages and dialects of Christendom. As the light grew stronger, the crowd became more distinct.

    First Crusade: Siege of Jerusalem

    Here, an archer, with an unstrung bow over his shoulder. There, a leather-clad spearman, lean- ing on his weapon as a stave. And among those ready for war could be seen a surprising number of unarmed people, including priests, nuns, women and children of all ages. All of them, man or woman, soldier or cleric, looked hun- gry, but although their bodies lacked all measure of surplus fat, they were not emaciated. Rather, they had the cords of tough muscle only obtained through years of hard labour. And these people had laboured. Nearby, mounted, and accompanying those on foot with a certain compla- cency, were a group of 70 knights, formed up in a disciplined row.

    Their chain- mail armour and burnished helms shone, tinged with the pink of the dawn. It was the raid of these knights ahead of the army the previous day, and their return with the news that the city was close, which had caused the ragged crowds to stumble all night across a rocky terrain in the hope of seeing the physical manifestation of their dreams.

    1099 The Siege of Jerusalem

    Proud of their responsibility for those beneath them, the knights were alert, scanning the brightening sky in all direc- tions for dust clouds in the morning air, for a sign, in other words, of their enemies. Only 26 years old, Tancred was nevertheless the hero and talisman of the present company. The relationship between the two was of equals. More than that, it was of men whose common interest united them across all barriers of language and past allegiances.

    For Gaston and Tancred occupied the same political position inside the Christian army. They were both leaders of a small band of knights, but with nothing of the following or authority of the truly great princes. Or at least, not yet. Win a rep- utation for bravery, win more followers and, above all, win booty to reward those knights who took the chance of serving with them, and who knew what lay ahead?

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    This land was full of rich cities and the fortunes of war were fickle. On the previous day, both Tancred and Gaston — independently — had ridden right up to the walls of the city. Both had relied on the reputation of the great Christian army half a day behind them to intimidate the local Muslim forces. Gaston had been the quicker and the bolder; his 30 knights had galloped through the outlying farms around the city gathering up beasts and valuables.

    But when the commander of the garrison of the city realized how small this Christian force was, he ordered a troop of swift light cavalry to chase Gaston and his men.