All Things Are Lights – Day 153 of 200

“Yes,” she said, because she could not say anything else. “Yes, I will say it to his face. If that is what you want.”

Marguerite shook her head. “I do not know what I want. I need help as I have never needed help in my life before, and you are telling me that the strongest man at my side is a traitor.”

Nicolette stepped closer to the bed and saw that Marguerite’s face remained deeply flushed with anger.

I have made everything so much harder for her, thought Nicolette miserably. I have failed to convince her, and I have ruined our friendship. Now Amalric will have his way.

When Marguerite spoke again, it was in a cold fury.

“Would you have me govern this city, hold it against the Saracens and try to ransom my husband, all the while suspecting that Amalric de Gobignon is a traitor?”

Marguerite pressed her hands against the bed and with difficulty pushed herself until she was sitting bolt upright. Nicolette reached out to help her, but Marguerite waved her away.

“Why, oh, why,” Marguerite went on, “did you keep this from me until now? I thought we were friends. I thought I knew everything about you.”

“I never told you because I knew it would be almost impossible for you to believe me. You have before you no proof, only my word against one who is the King’s own cousin. Would the King himself have believed it, if such a rumor reached his ears, even if it came from you, Marguerite? Dear friend, I have only one reason for telling you now. The King’s life is in such danger I cannot keep silent. Even if you cannot believe me. Even if you make me confront Amalric. Even if you throw me in prison or he kills me. At least I have spoken out. And now, you must decide.”

Marguerite stared at Nicolette.

An eternity seemed to pass. Nicolette sat with her hands knotted in her lap. She could hear the gruff voices of the mariners below, talking to one another in Italian.

Marguerite spoke. “Nicolette, in all this horrible Outremer, you are the only one whose counsel I can trust. You must tell me what to do.”

Nicolette went limp with relief. She reached out her arms to Marguerite and held her, feeling the Queen’s tear-wet face pressed against her cheek. Our love for each other is strong, she thought. It may yet save us.

They wept in each other’s arms until they both quieted. Nicolette sat back and tried to pull her scattered thoughts together.

She had not thought beyond speaking out about Amalric. Somehow, Marguerite, once persuaded not to trust Amalric, would do the right thing.

But what was the right thing Marguerite did not know, any more than she did. With a jolt of fear she realized the burden of saving their loved ones still rested as much upon Nicolette herself as upon her Queen.

She thought, and spoke.

“The only advice I can give you is that as long as you hold Damietta, you have something to trade for the King’s life. You must not give this city up. And you can hold Damietta. We have fifty or so knights. They may be old, but they must be good at their trade or they would not have lived so long. We have servants and pages and common people who can be armed. Perhaps we can get the Genoese to send some crossbowmen ashore. With these we can hold it for a time, at least. And you can send messages to Cyprus, to the Christian strongholds in Syria and Palestine. More knights will come. The Templars and the Hospitalers will send knights. With the Queen of France in such peril, what chivalrous man could stay away?”

Marguerite took Nicolette’s hands. The Queen’s grip was stronger now.

“Yes,” said Marguerite, “as long as we have those ships we are not lost.”

“Send to Queen Blanche and tell her what has happened. Tell her you will need ransom money. The Templars guard the treasury of France, and they have banks throughout Outremer. They can transmit the money for you.”

“Of course!” Marguerite exclaimed.

“You must also send word to the Sultan, let him know you are willing to bargain,” said Nicolette. “Perhaps the Patriarch can go to him under a flag of truce.”

“Yes.” The color was coming back into Marguerite’s cheeks. But then she paled and her face fell. “What can I do about your husband? Must I confront him? Accuse him? Have him imprisoned?”

“For now I think not,” Nicolette said. “You have no proof of his malice. Only my word, and that is not enough to convince others. You will divide our forces if you act against him now, and we have little enough strength as it is. But you must not let Amalric take command of the city. You must speak, in the King’s name, and leave no doubt that everyone here is under your rule.

“I know — you can appoint Amalric commander of the city’s defenses. That will make it clear that he gets his authority from you. It will make the defense of the city a matter of his honor. That might hinder him from doing anything to undermine our resistance to the Saracens and force us to leave. And if he does, you have the proof you need to move against him.”

“It will be hard to face him and not let him know I think of him as an enemy.”

“You can do it,” said Nicolette. “I have been doing it for years,” she added bitterly.

“I will call the chief men in the city together today, Nicolette,” Marguerite said, suddenly fired with determination, “and tell them that as long as the King and his brothers and the remaining crusaders are in the hands of the Egyptians, we will hold Damietta.”

Then Marguerite again looked uncertain. “Do you really believe we can do it, Nicolette. With a few old knights, a crowd of half-pirate Genoese, and a baron who wants to usurp the throne?”

“We have ourselves, Marguerite,” said Nicolette, taking both the Queen’s hands in hers. “Are we not women of Languedoc?”

“Yes!” Marguerite’s smile flashed, and the sight of it brought tears to Nicolette’s eyes. “I will show them all, Nicolette — the Saracens and the Genoese and our people — and Louis — what a Queen a woman of Languedoc can be.”

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