All Things Are Lights – Day 162 of 200

“I am most grateful,” said Louis.

Turan Shah held up a finger. “But, because you are a king, it is not fitting that you should buy your own freedom with money. A sovereign must trade land for his person.”

“I agree,” said Louis, again without hesitation. “In return for my freedom, you shall have Damietta.”

Turan Shah glowered. “Would you be so brazen as to give us what is already ours?”

“It would cost you dear to take it back,” said Louis serenely. “My Queen holds it for me, and she has many knights with her, and our fleet of over a thousand ships with sailors and crossbowmen. Before you could overcome those forces, more knights will be coming to our aid from France and Outremer. To have the gates of Damietta opened freely will be worth far more to you than the wretched person of Louis Capet.”

Even as he repeated these words in Arabic to Turan Shah, Roland felt a thrill of admiration. To think Amalric had been trying to deprive France of this King!

“I know full well that Damietta is a toothless camel,” said the Sultan, “but I wish to spare my people and my treasury the strain of further warfare. We must discuss these things more, but in principle we are agreed.”

“What of the killing of my men?” asked Louis anxiously.

Baibars raised a pacifying hand. “I ordered my warriors to put up their swords, O King, when our gracious Sultan agreed to grant you an audience.”

Turan Shah’s eyebrows lifted in surprise, but he said nothing.

Baibars went on, “The killing will not be resumed as long as this bargain holds.”

Roland was breathless with joy. Hundreds have been saved, and we may go free, he thought. I may see Nicolette again.

But then despair leaped at him again, like an enemy attacking from behind. Perrin, what of Perrin?

Louis was speaking again. “Before I take leave of Your Majesty, I have one last request, a very small favor.”

“It shall be granted,” said the Sultan with a sweeping gesture.

“You are most kind,” said Louis. “This knight who interprets for me here is what we call a troubadour — a singer of songs. If, in your generosity, you could provide him with an instrument — a lute, say, or a harp — so that he could play and sing for us, it would comfort us greatly in our sorrow.”

A great lump swelled in Roland’s throat. Saint Michel, do not let me cry in front of these Saracens.

“It shall be done,” said Turan Shah, as he dismissed them with a wave of his hand.

On their way back to the prison compound, Louis said suddenly, “Pray that I was right about Damietta.”

“How could you be wrong, sire?”

“I know nothing of what is happening there. My Queen is with child, and her hour is come. How can a woman in that condition, her life in danger, her husband a prisoner, not give way to panic?”

“She will have good advice, sire.”

“Will she? Who is there with her? The Genoese undoubtedly will want to go home. The elderly knights will advise her to flee. And perhaps they will be right. Perhaps it would be better for her and for the kingdom if they were to flee now.”

My God, Roland recalled with sudden horror. Amalric could well be in Damietta. The knights who surrendered along with King Louis had told him Amalric had been seen taking flight on the road to Damietta even while the Count’s man Maurice went through the army and told them to lay down their arms. When he heard that, Roland realized that Amalric had betrayed the entire army. In Damietta he would be able to betray them again, this time to certain death.

Louis went on, “That man Turan Shah ordered the killing of our foot soldiers just so that he could drive a harder bargain with me. If he finds a way to take everything we offer and give back nothing, he will surely do that. He will take Damietta and the million — or eight hundred thousand — bezants and kill us all, if he can.”

And if Amalric can do anything to make that happen, he will, Roland thought, his newfound hope receding.

The Sultan’s soldiers brought them to the tent of Sahil the eunuch beside the gate of the prison compound. Sahil came out, followed by two servants. One knelt before the King and held out a black satin coat. The other handed Roland a long, narrow object covered in dark red silk. Roland unwrapped it. There in his hands lay a cithern, its neck fretted with ivory, its pear-shaped bowl of polished golden wood.

“Presents from the Sultan,” Sahil said with a smile.

Roland held the cithern and plucked its strings with its ivory pick. Perhaps I can, in the smallest way, ease the pain for all of us, he thought.

Louis wrapped the coat around himself as they walked back to his cottage. “Maybe this will stop my confounded teeth from chattering. Everything depends on Damietta, de Vency. Marguerite must hold Damietta for us or we are lost.”

One of the knights with whom Roland shared a hut came up to them, bowing to the King.

“We have been looking for you, de Vency. Your jongleur is in a bad way. You had better come now, if you can.”

“Is your man ill?” said Louis. “Forgive me for taking you from his side. Of course you must go to him at once.”

The hurting in Roland’s heart made him want to cry out. With a hasty bow to the King he began to run toward his hut.

In the gloom of the little hut Roland threw himself to his knees beside Perrin. He was thankful when the jongleur rolled his eyes toward him and smiled weakly.

Perrin tried to raise a hand, but it fell back limply to the rag pallet on which he lay.

Anxiously, Roland scanned Perrin’s wax-white face and trembling body for signs that he was better. He laid the cithern down on the dirt floor and took Perrin’s hand. It was hot and dry.

“I am glad you could come, master,” Perrin whispered to Roland. “I am not going to be awake much longer. The fever is coming back. It will take me this time. I am not strong enough to fight it.”

Roland tightened his grip on Perrin’s hand, wanting to pour all his strength into him. “You must hold on, Perrin. The King has struck a bargain with the Saracens. He is going to ransom us. They are going to let us go. Just fight the fever a little longer, and we shall be free.”

As if to confirm what Roland had said, a shadow appeared in the doorway of the hut. Roland looked up. It was the King. The men crowded into the hut started to scramble to their feet, but Louis motioned to them to be still.

“Is it true about the ransoming, sire?” one of the knights asked Louis.

“Yes, my friends, it is true,” said Louis. They whispered excitedly among themselves.

But Roland shook with rage at his own helplessness. Why cannot somebody help me? The King. Or God. Or Diane? Is she waiting for Perrin on the other side? Do not take him, Diane. I need him.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)