All Things Are Lights – Day 144 of 200

Old Maurice was waiting for Amalric in his tent. Of late, Amalric had found himself relying more and more on the veteran’s counsel. Now, sitting on his camp cot, he told Maurice about the proposed truce.

“Would it not be for the best if this heresy-loving king did not return to France?” asked Maurice, casting a sideways glance at Amalric.

The old man seemed to know Amalric’s thoughts without his even speaking them. Nor did he seem to find them shocking. But his cringing manner was tiresome. Why can he not look me in the eye? Amalric wondered. Damn him, was he so beaten down by his Saracen masters that he must ever cower like a whipped dog? He glowered up at Maurice, who stared over his left shoulder.

“From what you know of the Turks,” Amalric said, “are they likely to give the King leave to march unscathed back to Damietta?”

Maurice shrugged. “It depends on who is commanding. Baibars would no doubt prefer to destroy this army here and now, once and for all. Turan Shah, the new Sultan, is more of a bargainer, as his father was. He will want to accomplish the most with the fewest losses.

Even though Maurice’s manner encouraged him, Amalric felt reluctant to say any more.

“What if a band of crusaders were to launch an attack on the Mamelukes while the truce talks were going on?”

Maurice considered this and shook his head. “It might provoke the Saracens to strike back. But” — he smiled at Amalric — “who could be found who would want to commit suicide by attacking the Mamelukes now?”

“Not I,” Amalric agreed. “If I do not get out of here alive, I have accomplished nothing.”

“If the crusaders surrendered instead of talking of a truce,” Maurice ventured, “then the King and his brothers would fall at once into the hands of the Mamelukes.”

Amalric felt as if he were seeing a sunrise.

“And then what?” he asked, his heart quickening with excitement.

“While the Saracens are rounding up their prisoners, some of us might escape.”

Amalric pictured almost the entire crusader army being taken captive. Can I make such a calamity happen?

What other choice is there?

“If they take all these men prisoner, what will they do to them?”

Maurice shrugged. “Quite possibly they will kill them all, Monseigneur. It would be the surest guarantee that these crusaders, at least, will never trouble Egypt again. “

I cannot do it, Amalric thought. Let thousands of French knights be killed and say I am doing it to save the kingdom? And anyway, how? I cannot make them surrender. Or can I? he asked himself, as he thought of a way.

“The deaths of so many men,” said Amalric, recoiling from the prospect. “A terrible thing.”

And many of them good men. Men who think the way I do about things.

“They are going to die in Outremer anyway, Monseigneur,” Maurice said softly. “One way or another. If not now, then later on.”

That is not so certain, Amalric thought. If there were any way at all to get our men back to France, Louis would find it.

But if Louis gets his truce, I will never get revenge for Hugues or my father. I will see the kingdom taken over by heretics. I will end my days as a slave to Louis.

He struck his fist into his palm, and the loose chain-mail gloves dangling from the sleeves of his hauberk clattered. I have come this far, I cannot lose it all now. It will not be my fault if the Saracens kill them.

“Whatever happens to the men after they are captured, that is not your doing,” said Maurice softly, again seeming to know Amalric’s secret thoughts.

“I must do what I must do,” Amalric said suddenly. “For God and for France.”

“Yes, Monseigneur,” said Maurice, looking away still.

“Very well then.” Amalric plunged on quickly now. “Maurice, ride through the army and cry that all our men are to lay down their arms. Tell them the King has ordered it. Tell them surrender is the only way to save the King’s life.”

“Why should they do it because I tell them to, Monseigneur?”

“They will do it no matter who tells them,” said Amalric. “They know the King has sent the Sire de Montfort to treat with the Mamelukes. Confused, frightened men will obey any voice that speaks with conviction. And you know how to speak with conviction.” Besides, he thought, if this plan should fail, the surrender order must not seem to come from me. I can always say I had no idea what Maurice was doing.

“I will go at once, Monseigneur.” Maurice turned to leave.

The tent flap flew aside and Guy d’Etampes rushed in, trembling. He stared at Amalric with the eyes of a madman.

Maurice edged away from him.

“Traitor!” d’Etampes spat at Amalric.

Amalric felt his heart start to pound. This eavesdropping young fool must have heard everything. By Saint Dominic, I shall be destroyed! Louis will hang me.

“Go, Maurice,” said Amalric, quietly but urgently.

D’Etampes drew his sword. Holding it level with both hands, he pointed it at Maurice.

“Stay where you are!”

My vassal. How dare he? Drawing his sword against me.

Amalric sprang from his cot, and his long, three-edged basilard was in his hand before d’Etampes could begin to turn. He threw himself on the young man, grasping his neck with his free hand. D’Etampes was wearing his hauberk. The blow would have to be to an unprotected spot.

D’Etampes, struggling, looked at Amalric with horror and disbelief as Amalric drove the dagger like a spike into his eye.

He screamed with pain and shock.

Amalric forced the young man’s head down with his other hand, pushing the point into his brain.

D’Etampes’ scream stopped abruptly and he went limp.

Amalric pulled the dagger out with a jerk. A rush of blood followed it. The young knight collapsed on the carpet without a sound, his sword still in his hands.

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