All Things Are Lights – Day 149 of 200

“Yes, it is, your excellency,” said Amalric, making his voice sound heavy with grief but feeling grim pleasure despite his weariness. “All is lost.”

His chest swelled, and his limbs felt lighter. Fatigue and exultation together made him dizzy.

He looked with satisfaction into the watery eyes of the Patriarch. You thought surely you would get your bishop’s throne in Jerusalem back, did you not, you old fool? All is lost for you, but not for me. My greatest victories are all ahead of me. And tonight, in Damietta, I shall be with Nicolette again.


The quiet here in Marguerite’s bedroom and the quiet outside helped keep Nicolette calm. Sunday afternoon is peaceful, she thought, even in a Muslim city. For many minutes now she and Marguerite had enjoyed a companionable silence as they did their needlework together.

Keeping her hands busy with sewing eased the tension Nicolette felt, but fear for Roland and the King still lurked in her heart. There had been no news for weeks.

She was altering, to fit herself, a green silk dancer’s gown she had found in the Damietta bazaar. She liked the Saracen style. Marguerite’s work was of a more pious kind. Nicolette glanced at the heavy satin bishop’s cope spread out on the bed, which Marguerite was embroidering with gold thread, resting the hoop on the huge curve of her belly. When that is finished, it will be worth a fiefdom, she thought. And embroidered by the Queen of France, that makes it priceless.

I wonder if she will finish it before the baby is born.

A change in the sounds of the city disturbed her. Why do I hear shouting in the streets?

Marguerite heard it, too. She dropped her embroidery frame and reached for Nicolette’s hand, gripping it so hard that pain shot up Nicolette’s arm.

“Nicolette, something terrible has happened. I can feel it.”

They waited, talking in frightened murmurs as the cries came closer. It is a messenger, Nicolette decided, and he is telling his news to everyone he meets along the way, and the news is bad.

Soon the uproar had reached the palace, and now women were screaming and crying. Nicolette’s heart clenched like a fist.

The door of the Queen’s bedchamber was pushed open by Sire Geoffrey de Burgh, an eighty-year-old knight whom Louis had charged with guarding Marguerite’s person. There was a man behind him.

For a moment, Nicolette stopped breathing. She saw a tall knight with a sun-darkened face partly covered by a blond beard. It was a face she knew well, and yet it looked so ghastly it frightened her. Amalric.

He brushed past de Burgh, his heavy steps making the floor-boards quiver, and knelt at the Queen’s bedside. Another man slipped into the room and stood against a wall. Maurice, the old crusader Amalric had found here in Damietta when he first entered the city. How, she wondered, did that strange gray man come to be with Amalric now?

“Count Amalric,” said Marguerite in a small, trembling voice. “You are welcome. What news do you bring us?”

It is a wonder she recognizes him, Nicolette thought. He was much thinner. Above the beard his heavily tanned face was bony. The blond hair hanging down to his shoulders in lank, greasy locks was doubtless crawling with lice. He was armored from head to foot. The steel of the square ailettes that protected his shoulders was dented, and his purple and gold surcoat was ragged. Even though he was on the far side of the bed she was aware of how his unbathed body reeked.

His stare transfixed her and she felt a cold dread in the pit of her stomach.


His eyes were bloodshot and set deep in hollowed-out sockets. They were cloudy with weariness, but behind the fatigue was a strange glow that frightened her.

What terrible things had he seen and done?

He returned his gaze to the Queen. “Madame, my news is quickly told, but grievous. The King, your husband, charged me to bring word to you. I begged him to let me stay with him to the end, but he commanded me to leave.”

“The end?” Marguerite’s voice was shrill with terror. “My God, is Louis killed?”

Nicolette suppressed a scream.

Amalric went on implacably. “I saw the King taken by the Mamelukes and carried off in chains, Madame. He and his two brothers. As to whether he is still alive, I do not know.”

Nicolette turned to Marguerite. At this moment her greatest fear was not for the men, lost somewhere in this horrible country, but for the woman beside her. This shock might do terrible injury to Marguerite and her child about to be born.

Nicolette jumped up and caught the Queen just as she fainted. Nicolette eased her friend back against the lace-edged pillows.

And then she turned to glare up at Amalric. So callous. Why did he tell Marguerite so brutally?

Keeping a tight rein on her anger, she forced herself to speak courteously. “I beg you, Monseigneur. If you have more to say, say it gently. The Queen could give birth at any time.”

“I come from a place where gentleness is unknown,” Amalric answered coldly.

Amalric’s eyes still held that glow of triumph. Why, she wondered, when he comes from disaster?

Then horror wrenched at her stomach as she understood. He has got what he wants. The King is lost.

And Roland? How will I ever find out?

We are all lost.

As she stared at Amalric, fear and anguish churning inside her, she massaged the Queen’s deathly cold hands.

“It is dangerous to upset her in this condition,” she said. “Please.”

“She is in far worse danger than you imagine,” Amalric coolly returned. “The Turks are on the way. The quicker she realizes that, the sooner we can get away from here.”

Get away?

Nicolette fought panic. But the men — we do not even know what has happened to them. We cannot leave. What is he saying?

A white-bearded man wearing a cylindrical black hat and a black robe entered the bedchamber. A large silver cross with a double crossbar hung around his neck. Nicolette had seen him many times in Damietta before the army left. It was the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Surely he will not want to flee from here, she thought, feeling a little more hopeful.

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