All Things Are Lights – Day 115 of 200

Maurice of Vailly went back to the little group of Christians around their priest to tell them about his conversation with Amalric. As he did so, Amalric called d’Etampes back.

“Keep that man under your eye at all times, Sire Guy. Make sure he speaks to no one at our camp except you and me.”

D’Etampes saluted and rode off to get a horse for the old man.

Now, thought Amalric, to find the biggest mansion in the city, before the rest arrive. That is the least I deserve for taking this risk.


Roland stood with the king and a group of barons and knights on the steps of what had been, a week ago, the palace of the governor of Damietta. It was a rambling, white-walled three-story building with bright blue and yellow tile borders around its arched doorways and spacious windows. A high wall surrounded it, and within its confines were gardens and fountains. From the steps leading to the main doorway of the palace Roland studied the intricate beauty of the city’s blue-domed chief mosque across the plaza.

Louis’s outposts farther up the Nile had announced the coming this morning of two envoys of the Sultan, and now Roland’s attention shifted abruptly from the mosque. The envoys were entering the palace courtyard.

As far as he could tell, the Sultan’s emissaries rode unarmed. They wore yellow turbans, long green robes, billowing red trousers, and leather boots with pointed toes. A third man in a plain, dark robe, evidently a groom, rode behind them. He took the three horses and stood to one side. Roland observed that the ambassadors were tall, light-skinned men whose features looked more European than Turkish.

“They must be Mamelukes,” he said.

Raoul de Coucy, standing beside him, said, “I have heard that word before, but I do not know what it means.”

“It means ‘white slave.’ The Turks buy boys from Russia and farther east and train them as warriors. They are the personal slaves of the Sultan and the backbone of his army.”

“What about that one?” said de Coucy, nodding his head at the groom. “He is not white.”

Indeed, the third member of the Egyptian party was strange-looking, Roland thought. He was tall, like the other two, but his skin was a dark brown. His cheekbones stuck out sharply, and the inner corners of his eyes slanted downward toward a flat nose. But although most people of the East Roland had seen had black hair and brown eyes, this man’s mustache was red, and one of his eyes was blue. The other eye was an opaque white, probably, Roland decided, from the cut of a sword.

“Perhaps he is a Tartar,” Roland answered de Coucy. “I am told they make Mamelukes of Tartars, too.” He turned his attention to the envoys, who bowed ceremoniously to the King. One spoke a fulsome greeting in Arabic. They are not lacking in courtesy, Roland thought.

The emissary drew a scroll from the embroidered shawl that tied his robe at the waist and held it out. Louis beckoned him to approach, and Roland tensed himself. He is too trusting. What if there were a dagger hidden in that scroll?

The King took the scroll and broke the seal as the Mameluke, bowing repeatedly, backed down the steps. Louis glanced at the message and beckoned Roland.

“Can you read this?”

Roland examined the heavy parchment. It bore the seal of Sultan As-Salih Ayub of Cairo and his signature in thick, black strokes at the bottom. Roland quickly scanned the flowing Arabic script, reading from right to left. A chill of excitement rippled through him.

He turned to Louis. “We have won, sire. It is an offer of peace.”

Louis looked surprised and troubled. “Read it aloud.”

Sentence by sentence, Roland translated the flowery Arabic. After complaining at length about the French invasion of Egypt, the Sultan gave his own version of events leading up to the seizure of Jerusalem by his general, Baibars the Panther, five years ago. Then Roland came to the heart of the message:

“Leave our city of Damietta whole and in peace, O King of the Franks, sail away from our river Nile, and you shall gain all that you seek. We will restore Jerusalem to you, as well as Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Galilee. We will do this because Allah loves peace above all.”

Roland was swept by a joy so powerful his hands were trembling by the time he finished reading. The Sultan truly was offering everything they had come for — all the holy places of Palestine. There need be no more fighting.

Louis could return to France. He would be safe. And the kingdom would be safe.

And I will live, too, Roland thought wonderingly. Nicolette and I can be together, and we shall find some way to deal with Amalric.

Louis took the scroll from his hand, calling Roland back to the present. The crowd had grown, he now saw, since he started reading. Knights jostled one another within the courtyard’s brightly painted plaster walls. Roland could see some Egyptian men, inhabitants of Damietta, staring in through the gateway. They had come back to their homes in the week since the capture of the city, having decided the crusaders would not massacre them. The Mameluke groom was strolling about the courtyard, cocking his one good eye at the knights and their weapons and at the King himself.

After a moment of hesitation Louis said, “Sire Roland, tell the envoys I must discuss this with my counselors. Make them comfortable.” Turning, he reentered the palace, followed by his brothers Charles and Robert and the other great barons.

Raoul de Coucy gripped Roland’s arm. “I may be back home with my wife in a month,” he said with a delighted grin. He hurried off to join the King’s council.

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