It was daylight before they came across any indication that something was amiss: a dead man with two arrows in his back. He had evidently managed to get away and keep walking for God knew how long before he had been reduced to crawling and then, finally, had bled to death. One of the Hospitaller squires dismounted and verified that the arrows were of Egyptian origin.
They looked around at the desolate landscape. They were in a depression caused by a now-dry wadi. The dunes had gradually given way to gravel and stone. Except for the Mediterranean on their right, they were surrounded by low but barren hills, and the dawn was creeping up on them. While the sun brought welcome warmth, it also exposed them to the scouts of Salah-ad-Din’s army. As the Christians looked around at the deserted countryside, they felt naked. Just how far had the dead man managed to travel after he was shot, and how long ago had he died?
Balian and the Hospitallers agreed to ride a little farther up the road to the top of the hill ahead of them, hoping this would give them a better view into the far valley. Balian decided it was time to put his helmet on, and he took one of the lances into his hand as well. It was not entirely rational, but he had the feeling he was not going to like what he saw on the far side of that low hill.
Just before they breasted the hill, Gladiator shied sharply sideways, spun on his haunches, and tried to run back the way he’d come. By the time Balian had him back under control, the Hospitallers were beside him, and the commander was making motions for them to dismount. Balian jumped down and handed a still fretting Gladiator over to one of the Hospitaller squires, so that he and the Hospitaller knights could approach the crest of the hill on foot, keeping their heads down as much as possible. Suddenly the wailing of a muezzin split the early morning air. The sound was like the yowling of a cat, and it made the hair on the back of Balian’s neck stand on end. He glanced toward the Hospitaller commander in horror, and saw the older man drop to his belly. Balian followed his example. They pulled themselves forward across the rubble and gravel by their elbows until they could gaze down on the encampment of the Saracen army.
By then Balian was expecting what he saw: rows and rows of bright-colored tents with long banners emblazoned with Arabic writing fluttering in the wind. Between the tents the commoners camped, covering the ground like a carpet of moving moss as far as the eye could see.
The whole camp was slowly coming to life as men roused themselves to pray facing Mecca. On the fringes of the camp the horse lines stirred, too, as the horses anticipated feed and water after this daily ritual of prayer. Balian concentrated on the horses. If he knew the number of horse, he could roughly calculate the size of the whole army: four foot soldiers to each mounted man. There were two clusters of horses, and both were too many to count, so he gave up. He had his answer already. This was no simple raid, nor a reconnaissance in force: this was an invasion.
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