All Things Are Lights – Day 142 of 200

The Patriarch made the sign of the cross at Amalric and his men as he passed by them. Amalric touched forehead, breast, and shoulders in response, but shuddered as he did.

I have done everything I could to destroy this crusade, to bring about the death of the King and his brothers. I have Robert’s blood on my hands. Can a blessing do me any good, or am I damned?

A little later, as they rode on, Guy d’Etampes said, “The Oriflamme.”

Amalric looked back to see the gold banner bobbing over the river road half a league or so behind them.

“I told you the King intended to make no stand,” said Amalric.

“He is able to escape because others are making a stand,” said d’Etampes. There was a hint of disapproval in his voice that angered Amalric. He forgets, he would be nothing without me.

“I do not think that knight is wholly loyal to you, Monseigneur,” said Maurice in a low voice. “I would keep an eye on him.”

In the late afternoon, a messenger from the King reached Amalric. The King’s party, the man reported, had stopped at a village a league back. The fighting, he said, seemed to be dying down. The King requested Amalric’s presence at a council.

The village was a collection of mud brick huts with thatched roofs, abandoned for now by its fellahin inhabitants, who had probably fled behind Saracen lines. It smelled of human and animal dung. The Oriflamme was planted above a gray-brown house that looked like a small box made of clay. There was not even a door, just a brown curtain through which Amalric pushed.

The sight of Louis filled Amalric with secret delight. The King sat on a pile of blankets, his long body bent double, holding his belly, his gaunt face dripping with feverish sweat. His cook, Isambert, a sturdy man, stood beside him with folded arms. A small group of barons, all looking exhausted, was gathered around the dark room.

Count Charles d’Anjou sat on the dirt floor of the hut near the King. Amalric grew wary at the sight of Louis’s shorter, darker brother. Knowing Charles to be more practical than Louis — and far more clever than the late Count Robert — Amalric felt he must be especially on his guard in his presence.

“God has seen fit,” Louis said in a weak voice, “to give me the flux. But I am happy to see you looking strong, Amalric.”

He means it, the idiot, Amalric thought.

“Count Amalric,” Charles said, “the King should not be riding, should he? There is still one galley left. Tell him he should go by galley to Damietta.”

Amalric tensed, fearing that Charles’s advice might get Louis out of danger.

“As long as my army marches, I will march,” said Louis with his usual quiet stubbornness.

“Gallantly spoken, sire,” Amalric said heartily.

Charles rolled his eyes in despair.

Alphonse, the youngest of the royal brothers, a slight, sandy-haired youth, sat staring at the floor, as if trying to keep his mind off the conversation.

“We have little enough occasion for gallantry left, my good Amalric,” said Louis. “I have decided to ask the Saracens for a truce. I intend to plead with them to halt their attack on us, permitting us to withdraw in peace to Damietta.”

Why in God’s name should they do that? Amalric thought. Does he think this is a tournament? They have us now. They can annihilate us and take Damietta at their leisure.

“What will we offer them in return, sire?” he asked.

“If they destroy us here, they will lose thousands of their own men doing it,” Louis said. “We are weak, but we are desperate men. There are still perhaps ten thousand of us, and each of us will kill many of them before he falls. On the other hand, I will suggest that if they let us return to Damietta we might reach some final settlement of this war.”

Louis sighed sadly. Then his face went white and he clutched at his stomach.

“My Jesus, the pain!” He reached out a shaking hand to Isambert, who hauled him to his feet and half carried, half dragged him out of the hut.

He cannot even walk, thought Amalric. He must be near death. He felt himself breathing harder with excitement. And I am already Constable of France. So close, so close — except for Louis’s brothers.

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