All Things Are Lights – Day 177 of 200

Damn! he thought. She must not talk to Nicolette. Nicolette will tell her everything.

His rage turned against Agnes. Another damned Languedoc woman, like Nicolette and Marguerite. She must know all about Nicolette’s infidelity. She probably carried messages between her and the troubadour. She might even know about Simon.

He could not bear to think she might.

“Yes,” he said. “Madame needs you. Come with me.”

Without waiting, he turned and started back into the second-floor corridor. He heard her steps behind him. He waited till he was passing an empty room.

Then he whirled and seized her throat.

His thumbs crushing her windpipe cut off her scream. He dragged her into the shadowy room. She struggled against him, beating him with fists he did not feel. He watched her face turn dark. He looked at a mosaic on the wall. He fixed his eyes on it, his arms rigid, his hands tightening, tightening.

She seemed to take forever to die.

When her body was limp and unmoving, he let her drop to the floor. He put his hand on her breast. There was no heartbeat. He tore a hanging down from the wall, threw it over her, and left her there.

If only I could show her body to Nicolette, but there is no time for that.

He found Maurice on the first floor and told him some of what had happened between himself and Nicolette.

The old man looked at Amalric in puzzlement. “But why, Monseigneur? Why did you tell Madame so much?”

“I told you, we quarreled. Do not question me, damn you. Just make sure that she is kept locked up and quiet until we know the King and the rest of them are dead. And there is something else you must take care of for me. I had to kill Nicolette’s maid.”

Maurice’s hand went to his chest, and there was shock and pain in his eyes. Saint Dominic, did he care for the damned girl? But all he said was, “Does Madame Nicolette know?”

“No. I want you to get the body out of the house before anyone finds out about it. It is in a room upstairs.”

Maurice nodded slowly, turning his face away from Amalric. “It will be easy, Monseigneur. When the dead cart comes around after dark, I will put her on it. I will tell the other servants she just collapsed suddenly. They will be afraid to get too close to the body. She will be buried in the big grave in the center of the city, with no questions. People are dying every day.”

“Do it, then. Make sure no one finds the body before you have rid us of it.”

Maurice kept his head turned. “But why did you have to kill her, Monseigneur? She did not know anything, did she?”

“Do not question me, God damn you!” Amalric shouted.

“No, Monseigneur,” Maurice whispered as Amalric walked away.

In the early evening twilight Amalric took his war-horse, one of the few left in Damietta, and rode through the streets. He passed the long burial pit before the governor’s palace, into which Agnes would soon disappear. He turned and rode to the south gateway, the largest of the four in Damietta’s triple walls. Leaving the destrier in the care of a guard, he climbed to the top of the gate tower.

His steps were slow, legs hard to move. Somewhere inside him a voice cried out in anguish, Simon! Simon! The pain ran down his backbone, filled his body.

And I had thought he might one day be king. He wondered if he would go mad, suffering so, losing everything in one night.

Standing on the stone platform of the tower, leaning against a sandstone merlon, he stared at the Nile. The marshlands were black and the river a glistening purple. Somewhere, up that river only a few leagues, were King Louis and his men, about to be slaughtered. Nicolette should see them die. God, I wish she could. What can I do to pay her back in full?

Go back now and kill her? God, I have loved her for so many years. Such a waste. That traitorous bitch.

No, I will take her back to France. She can learn of my triumph while she withers in a dungeon. And I can torture her at my whim. She must watch the death of that bastard she and de Vency conceived. Oh, my poor little Simon, I loved you. He felt grief rising in him, choking him.

Then a new idea came, so cunning he found himself exulting. I will force her to kill Simon. Torture a person enough and they will do anything.

But what about that heretic woman who died with Hugues? He tortured her endlessly. And she never gave in. Yes, and we knew de Vency was her protector, though we never proved it.

By God, de Vency is the cause of all of it. What I would give to have him alive again.

But de Vency — my brother?

He looked up at the huge stars that seemed to hang right above his face like so many mocking fireflies.

“No!” he roared.

He smashed his fist against the rock. The pain shot up his arm, and it felt good. He pounded his knuckles into the unyielding merlon again and again until his fist was as numb as the stone itself.

And then he seemed to wake, as if from a nightmare.

What am I doing?

It is she. She is driving me mad.

Take her back to France? No, how can I? I shall have to kill her here. But first she must suffer. Must suffer as much pain as she has caused me.

Yes, she should see her beloved Marguerite raped and that baby’s brains dashed out against a wall. And then I could give her as a slave to the Saracens. Down on her knees for the rest of her life.

No, no. She is clever, she might trick some Egyptian into treating her kindly. But I could mutilate her. Disfigure her so that she could be nothing but a whore for the lowest brute.

Well, there is time to plan. I swear that before she dies I will have vengeance in full measure.

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