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It was early dawn in May, 1094. The glowing sun had just touched the eastern mountains with living fire; the green brakes and long stretches of half-tropical woodland were springing out of the shadow; a thin mist was drifting from the cool valleys; to the north the sea's wide reach was dancing and darkling. Upon a little height overlooking the Sicilian town of Cefalu three men were standing, very unlike in age and dress, yet each with attention fixed on one object,—a white falcon which the youngest of the party had perched on his fist. Two of the men were past the prime of life. Of one, the swarthy countenance, sharp features, bright Oriental dress, ponderous blue turban, and crooked cimeter proclaimed him at once a Moor, undoubtedly a Moslem; the other, taller, thinner than his comrade, wore a coarse, dark mantle; his hood was thrust back, displaying a head crowned with a tight-fitting steel cap, a face stern and tough, as if it were of oxhide, marked almost to deformity by plentiful sword scars. He wore a grizzled gray beard; at his side jangled a heavy sword in battered sheath; and in his hands, which lacked more than one finger, he held a crossbow, the bolts for which swung in a leathern case at his thigh. The two stood by their third companion, who was holding up the falcon on a gold-embroidered glove, while the other hand readjusted the feather-tufted hood over the bird's eyes.
"By St. Michael," the young man was declaring, "say to me, Herbert, and you also, Nasr, there was never such a falcon; no, not in all Count Roger's mews."
The speaker stood at least a head taller than the others, and they were not short men. He was a strong-limbed fellow of perhaps two-and-twenty; with a face not regular and handsome certainly; the cheek-bones were too high, the features too rugged, the mouth too large for that. But it was an honest, ingenuous face; the brown eyes snapped with lively spirits, and, if need be, with no trifling passion; the mouth was affable; the little brown mustache twisted at a determined curve; and the short dark hair—he was bare-headed—was just curly enough to be unruly. He wore a bleaunt, an undercloak of fine gray cloth, and over this was caught a loose mantle of scarlet woollen,—a bright dress that marked out his figure from afar.