All Things Are Lights – Day 178 of 200

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.

XXXIV

Roland gripped the rail of the prison ship. A sudden flurry of movement in the Sultan’s compound had caught his eye, and he quivered with tension. All morning and afternoon, after the previous night s talk with Baibars, he had felt cold with dread.

Now it begins, he told himself. But what? The Mameluke uprising? Or the massacre planned by Amalric?

Jean de Joinville, standing beside him, exclaimed, “My God, they are killing a man. Who is it?”

Robed figures were rushing out of the central pavilion. The warm yellow light of late afternoon flashed on gold ornaments and the bright steel of curved swords.

Roland and de Joinville leaned over the railing to see better. A Turk was running ahead of the others, red, green, and blue raiment billowing around him. He was clutching his wrist. His free hand, held out before his chest, was covered with blood. He ran toward the riverbank, awkwardly because of the way he was holding his hands. As he came closer to the galleys, Roland could see his face. His eyes were wide with amazement and terror, his mouth open.

It was the Sultan of Egypt, Turan Shah.

“They are killing their Sultan,” Roland exclaimed as he clapped de Joinville on the back. “Go and tell the King.” De Joinville hurried down the deck.

A group of warriors in flowing white robes, swords drawn, followed Turan Shah down the grassy slope to the Nile. Roland recognized most of them as the high Mameluke officers he had seen before in council with the Sultan. In their center walked Baibars, taller than the rest. Their stride was unhurried, purposeful, inexorable.

Where was the Sultan’s bodyguard?

Roland remembered Baibars saying he was giving away the money paid him for Damietta’s provisions. So the bodyguard must have been bought off. They are actually going to do it, he thought — kill Turan Shah. For the moment he was hopeful. But still he felt afraid. He had seen too many seeming victories turn suddenly into disasters.

Now Roland spied men of the Sultan’s bodyguard in their gilded breastplates spreading tumult through the royal pavilions. Instead of rushing to the Sultan’s aid, they were hacking at the ropes and poles that held up Turan Shah’s tents, and some of them were cutting down screaming, fleeing courtiers and retainers. Roland saw a bearded head sail out over the lawn like a rock shot from a catapult and land at the bottom of the slope.

He felt no revulsion. Saint Michel, he thought, have I seen so much horror that it is all one to me whether a bird or a man’s head flies through the air?

Turan Shah was at the base of the tall wooden tower from which he had enjoyed observing his prisoners. Three elderly men, their black gowns and turbans marking them as mullahs, expounders of Islam, were already crowded on the tower’s platform. Turan Shah dragged himself up the narrow wooden steps, leaving a trail of blood. As he reached the top, the mullahs shouted at him, waving their hands. They seemed to be telling him to get out because he was endangering them.

The Mameluke officers gathered around the base of the tower, conferring among themselves and waving their swords at the Sultan, challenging him to come down. Baibars stood apart, aloof, his arms folded, master of the scene of panic and murder spread out before them.

The galley rocked and hundreds of feet pounded on the deck as the captive crusaders crowded the railing to watch. Some were laughing, even cheering the Mamelukes on. De Joinville came back to stand beside Roland.

“The King is ill with fever again, but he is getting dressed,” he said.

Roland wondered how the King would feel when he saw what was happening.

The Mameluke officers called to the three mullahs, urging them to come down, showing by reverent gestures that the holy men had nothing to fear. The teachers conferred among themselves, then hurried down the steps. Turan Shah clung to his perch. The Mamelukes bowed to the mullahs, who walked briskly away, not looking back.

A soldier of the Sultan’s bodyguard came down to the tower holding at arm’s length a white ball the size of a man’s head. Roland recognized it as a bladder made from a cow’s stomach. There is Greek fire in that, he thought, his neck prickling. Then the Mameluke emirs backed off, and the soldier swung the bladder around his head and expertly let it fly up toward the tower platform. The bladder struck and exploded into flame.

“Did you ever see a prettier bonfire?” de Joinville chortled.

Roland did not answer, thinking of other great fires he had seen — at Mont Segur, at Mansura, his stone-casters. This whole uprising, too, was a kind of fire, and it might well spread and consume them all. When these Mamelukes finished with Turan Shah, what then? Roland had a momentary vision of their racing toward these galleys, the steel scimitars turned on himself and his friends. His hands felt empty, his arms weak.

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