All Things Are Lights – Day 154 of 200

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.”


“God, I need food,” Amalric growled as he and Nicolette entered the main hall of their Egyptian mansion. “I have not had anything decent in months. And then that silly woman’s summons woke me and I had no time. Bring me bread and cheese and fruit at once, and put the servants to roasting a beef. And wine, a jar of that good Cypriot wine.”

Quietly, Nicolette gave orders to the servants as Amalric sat heavily on a divan.

The servants set a table before Amalric, and Nicolette seated herself on a gilded footstool across from him. She felt as if she were in a cage with an angry wolf. He attacked everything brought to him, gulping his wine between huge bites.

Nicolette picked at the fruit. She had no appetite.

But everything had gone as she had hoped. How proud she had been of Marguerite as she firmly told Amalric and the other chief men in the city that she had no intention of giving up Damietta.

Amalric had blustered, as Nicolette knew he would, but to her delight Marguerite had stood her ground. Lercari had demanded a written guarantee of more payment for his ships and men. Marguerite had called for pen and parchment, scribbled a note, and tossed it at the Genoese admiral as if he were a beggar.

Nicolette almost smiled at the memory, but she dared not in front of Amalric.

Now, as he chewed his way through a joint of beef, Amalric slowed down to pause and glower at Nicolette.

“You had something to do with this, Nicolette.”

She tensed. She had feared this — that he might suspect her.

“With what, Monseigneur?”

“By Saint Dominic, do not play innocent with me. This morning when I was awakened you were already at the palace. No doubt giving Marguerite the benefit of your good counsel.”

“It is my duty to serve the Queen, and she needs me now more than ever.”

“When I went to bed yesterday I was certain that I could convince her today — with help from you — that we should sail for Cyprus at once. Today I wake up and she is preparing for a siege. Who changed her mind, Nicolette?”

She could not take her eyes off his big hands, holding the beef bone and dripping with blood. She could feel those hands around her neck, squeezing.

“The Queen makes up her own mind, Monseigneur. But she did ask my advice.”

“And what did you say to her?” asked Amalric with menacing softness, putting down the chunk of meat.

Nicolette steeled herself. I cannot show fear. I must pretend this is just an ordinary conversation.

“I said that instead of just giving up Damietta she should use it to bargain with the Saracens. We could offer to surrender Damietta if the King is freed.”

Amalric’s hand shot across the table and seized her wrist. The touch of his fingers, wet from the meat, made her skin crawl.

“So it was you. You have ruined everything. From now on I command you, as my wife who owes me obedience, to tell the Queen only what I order you to say.”

God, how she hated him.

She jerked her arm, and her wrist slid free.

“You cannot blame a woman, even one who is Queen, for not wanting to abandon her husband, Monseigneur.”

He eyed her.

He is wondering how much I understand, she thought.

“It is a foolish waste of lives and of treasure to cling to Damietta,” he said. “The army is lost.”

The thought of Roland and King Louis and so many other good men suffering and dying while Amalric calmly stuffed himself with beef infuriated her. “Is it not enough that you left the entire army to be taken captive? Left all your own men back there? Even your faithful vassal, d’Etampes? All but your toady, Maurice. Must you desert your comrades altogether?”

The blood drained from his face under the deep tan, and he stared at her, lips drawn back from his teeth. “Are you calling me a coward?”

“No — no —” Her voice trembled as she realized, terror-stricken, how dangerously she had spoken in her surge of anger.

He pointed a grease-stained finger at her. “It is that troubadour. That is who you are thinking of when you talk of my comrades. You have never really forgotten him, have you? You fear for him.” There was mockery in his voice.

“I fear for all the men killed or taken captive, all of them, whether I know them or not.”

Amalric leaned toward her, his wide grin baring canine teeth.

“I have the pleasure of putting your fears to rest, Madame. Your former lover, the troubadour, is dead.”

For just a moment her vision clouded. Then she clenched her fists under the table, digging the nails into her palms. I will not show anything. I will not let him see that he has hurt me.

“I say again I mourn for all the dead at Mansura.” She kept her lips from quivering.

“It was just as we were retreating from Mansura on Fat Tuesday,” he went on, as if she had not spoken. “De Vency and his equerry ventured into a courtyard, perhaps looking for a bit of loot to carry off. A swarm of Egyptians who had lain in ambush on the rooftop fell upon them. I saw them go down under dozens of flashing daggers. Then more Egyptians, Mamelukes, were upon us. I myself barely escaped.”

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