The boys had never seen anything like it. From a distance the castle blended in so well with the crags and rugged contours of the landscape that they thought the towers were outcroppings. As they came closer, they realized that cascading down the steep slope of the mountain face was a wall that enclosed a partially overgrown area with a slope of 45 degrees or more. At the top of this a series of towers nestled against the back of a sheer limestone cliff. But they soon discovered that even these towers were only the outer line of defense. On the very top of the cliffs that reared up in jagged peaks and teeth of stone, there were more towers still. One crowned the top of a spike of rock with a skirt of pine trees all around it. The boys could only gape in wonder.
At the lower barbican, the party of Franks led by Lusignan and Ibelin dismounted, and the squires stayed there to see to the stabling and feeding of the horses, while Lusignan and Ibelin continued. They proceeded on foot up a steep, winding path punctuated with shallow steps to the wall against the cliff. The knights of their escort trailed them, with the three boys forming the tail of the formation. The towers built against the side of the cliff were solid, crenelated, and well-fortified with gates, portcullis, murder holes, and more. Furthermore, they were dog-legged, sometimes twice, so that after entering, one faced a blank wall of stone and had to turn to continue. Only after emerging from the far side did it become evident that the second chamber was carved out of bedrock. Beyond that they exited onto a narrow spine of land that faced north rather than south.
This was like no castle the boys from Palestine had ever seen. The buildings were strung along the corniche of the mountain and connected by narrow footpaths that wound amid the outcroppings and the undergrowth, and—following the rugged contours of the mountain crags—dipped down steeply or scaled to new heights in a series of steps.
Almost as amazing as the structures themselves were the large gnarled trees that grew wherever the surface was too steep for either a path or a building. If the south slope by which they had gained the castle had seemed steep, the drop-off to the north was dizzying. The mountain dropped straight down for hundreds of feet before the forest resumed, clinging to the side of the mountain as it fell to the coastal plain. The latter was cultivated with patches of orchards, vineyards, pastures, and fields. A little port with a double harbor inside a breakwater and a powerful castle could be seen to the northeast—but mostly it was the lushness of the countryside that amazed the boys raised in the Holy Land.
Until they started exploring, that is. The “middle” castle, as they came to think of it, lay just behind the cliff they had passed through, and it had what seemed like endless storerooms, pantries, wine cellars (chock-full of wine!), a curing room for meat with a fireplace, a bakery, a brewery, an oil press and a winepress, even a stall for goats and a henhouse and pigeon cote. There were barracks here as well, only sparsely furnished and partially occupied, and an impressive basilica constructed of limestone interrupted by thin layers of brick to create a horizontally striped wall. The three apses of the church faced due east from the tip of the mountain crest. Unless one went to the window to look down, they offered views only of the sky—as if the building were suspended in the air.
Heading west through the maze of buildings, some connected underground, the boys eventually came to a narrow path that led beside the rocky face of the mountain upwards by means of narrow, steep steps toward a cluster of buildings crowning the top of the highest point on this ridge. The elder Lusignan and Ibelin and their knights had taken this route immediately, while the boys had been distracted by exploring the middle castle.
Now the boys followed, discovering that the “upper castle” was more cohesive, with a paved courtyard, and a number of impressive buildings with batteries of arched doors and double-light windows offering spectacular views in all directions. The ground floors of these buildings were often at least partially carved out of bedrock and usually windowless, but well stocked with grain, oil, wine, and weapons. The second floors of the buildings, in contrast, were paved with either tiles or marble. There were window seats in the windows, hooded fireplaces, and other signs of the luxury accommodations conspicuously lacking in the barracks of the middle castle.
When they had completed their round of the buildings facing the courtyard, they passed out by way of a gate facing west and discovered there was yet another lone tower, standing upright and defiant on a little peak of white rock roughly a thousand feet away. This tower was very narrow and tall with no windows, but topped by crenelation.
“How do we get there?” Philip asked in awe.
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