All Things Are Lights – Day 174 of 200

As he walked with Baibars back to the prison ships, Roland thought, This man beside me may be dead, too, before tomorrow ends.

Baibars turned away from him at the bottom of the gangplank.

As Roland moved slowly to board the prison ship, he felt a light touch on his arm and heard Baibars speak softly to him.

“Whatever happens will be as Allah wills. We are nothing. All power is His.”

XXXIII

Amalric listened to the wailing cry that called the Muslims to evening prayer and wished he could hang the damned Saracen doing that weird caterwauling. He felt oppressed by this room in which he and Nicolette sat, a library, part of the harem area of the house. On bookshelves lining the walls stood neat rows of leather-bound volumes and boxes of scrolls. I should have these fed to the kitchen fire, Amalric thought. There was something almost obscene, he felt, about such a huge collection of books. Were not books a source of contamination, breeding heresy and rebellion? Did not much of the evil spreading through Christendom spring from these very Saracen and pagan writings?

He looked at Nicolette, sitting at a table in the center of the room, turning the pages of a large volume under the light of a filigreed lamp hanging from the ceiling.

“Do not tell me you can read the devils’ writing,” he tried to joke with her.

“No,” she said quietly, “but there are beautiful pictures in many of these books.”

Her remote, self-possessed manner churned up a fury within him. She was betraying him. He was sure of it. Maybe now was the time to get the truth out of her. He remembered how she had been when he first came back, anguished for the lost army and trembling in fear of what the Muslims might do if they took this city. Then when he had told her of de Vency’s death he had felt certain her spirit was totally crushed. But it was not. He could still see her at the meeting with the Genoese, after those sneaking Bedouins sold the Queen provisions — the same provisions Amalric had sold them for a mere tenth of what they got from Marguerite. When that snake Lercari went back on his word, yes, he had seen triumph in her eyes; he would swear it! And if not for that stroke of bad fortune, he would already be safely on Cyprus.

Looking at her now, the first time she had been at home with him since the day after his return to Damietta, he felt her beauty move him, as it always did. But he felt no lust to bed her.

What he needed most was to relax enough to sleep, to stop asking himself all night long, Would Turan Shah cooperate or betray him? Would Louis somehow return to accuse and destroy him? Visions of the King, Robert d’Artois, and the others he had betrayed tormented him like demons. An outcry last night from the sentries on the walls had turned his bowels to water. He had imagined the crusaders free, coming back. This morning on the street one of his hired men-at-arms had spoken to him from behind, and his body had gone rigid, his hand leaping for his sword hilt. Yes, it was good Nicolette had been sharing the Queen’s bed. God only knew what he might have uttered in his sleep.

And now the moment was almost at hand. The great chests of silver were sitting offshore on a galleass whose sails were painted with the splayed red cross of the Templars. Maurice had gone to the Sultan with Amalric’s message and had come back saying that Turan Shah would act in a day or two.

Suddenly he felt a longing to see his children. Was not today the first of May? Back at Chateau Gobignon they would be dancing around a Maypole. He ached to feel his sweet Isabelle’s arms around his neck. Well, if all went as planned, Simon might one day be King of France.

Curse Nicolette, why could she not share with him so magnificent a dream?

He watched her turn another page and smile at the brightly painted picture she saw there.

“I suppose you would be satisfied to stay here for the rest of your life, Madame, woolgathering over these Saracen books.”

She looked up, surprised. “Not at all, Monseigneur. Now that the ransom money is here, our men will be back with us soon and we shall leave. With that I am content.”

Does she think the troubadour is still alive? Did she not believe me? He felt himself grow hot with fury. She must still hope to see him again. Why else would she be so infernally serene?

And she had given the Queen the strength to stay here. Yes, and he would make her admit it, too.

“Are you pleased, Madame, because you think you have succeeded in betraying me?” His voice came out louder than he had intended, almost a shout.

“I have no idea what you mean,” she said coldly, laying her hands flat on the open book and staring at him.

“Indeed? I instructed you to urge Marguerite to flee this city. Of all her women you are closest to her. Yet with every passing day she becomes more stubborn. And those fresh supplies, I think you had something to do with them. You should have been at my side, and instead you were giving aid to my enemies. You are a faithless woman.”

Her lips drew back from her teeth. “Faithless? You accuse me, when everything you have done has been for the death of your own King and comrades?”

The red rays of the setting sun streaming through translucent sheets of horn in the tall windows glittered on the names of books written on leather in gold leaf. He hated the wriggling Arabic symbols, because they hid their meaning from him.

How much has she told Marguerite?

Hugues was right. I should have gotten rid of her long ago. But I could not bear to. Why was I so weak?

No, not weakness. It was love. Always. I can command armies, even topple a great king, and yet fail at every turn to win this one small woman.

“Have you never understood me?” he demanded. “This king is destroying us.”

“If you really believe that, you are mad,” she answered, staring at him. “I have little knowledge, perhaps, but I believe King Louis must be one of the best men ever to wear the crown of France. And you speak against him only because you yourself want to take his crown.”

My enemy, Amalric thought. She has always been my enemy. He felt as if she had driven a dagger into his side. How could she be my wife, how could she bear my children, and yet see nothing as I see it?

“I do not care about being king. But I want a man on the throne who respects the Peers of the Realm and who will stamp out heresy.”

“You are lying, Amalric,” she said with strange gentleness. “Perhaps to yourself. Because what you are doing is so foul that you cannot admit it even to yourself.”

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