All Things Are Lights – Day 180 of 200

Baibars, scimitar in hand, strode down the bank. He gazed down at Turan Shah for a moment, and Roland thought he saw the Sultan move. Suddenly Baibars lunged, driving his scimitar into Turan Shah’s chest. The fallen man quivered from head to foot, then lay still. Baibars gathered up part of his white robe to wipe the blood from his blade, leaving a dark red smear. He deliberately marks himself with the Sultan’s blood, thought Roland. After a long look at the other Mamelukes, Baibars sheathed his sword and walked away.

One emir raised his scimitar high and brought it down on Toran Shah’s chest with a shout. Then he fell upon the Sultan and plunged his bare hand into the wound. Soon he was on his feet again holding aloft in both hands a lump of meat dripping red.

“Sweet Jesus!” said de Joinville. “They have torn out his heart.”

Roland felt his stomach heave, and he quickly turned away. A bitter bile came up in his throat, and he covered his mouth with his hand. No, he had not become as hardened as he had thought.

“May God have mercy on his soul,” said Louis softly. He had returned to the rail to stand beside them.

May God have mercy on all of us now, thought Roland. His knees trembled as he realized that all too soon they too must face these same Mamelukes.

Roland saw Baibars standing alone on the hill, where the Sultan’s tents burned around him. He surveyed the scene, smiling. What happens to us depends on him now.

The descendants of Saladin will rule Egypt no more. There ought to be a sad song in this, ugly and bloody though it is.

Roland’s spine froze as he watched the Mamelukes rejoice. They shouted and sang in the high wailing way peculiar to Saracens. They danced around the butchered body, led by him who held up the Sultan’s heart, and waved their swords. Mameluke guards marched a small group of musicians to the riverbank and made them play their drums, tambours, and hautboys.

Suddenly the blazing wooden tower crashed in upon itself, and there was a moment’s silence. Then the shrieking and laughter broke out again, wilder than before.

Soon, Roland thought with dread, they will remember us.

Roland saw Baibars standing silently watching all this, looking pleased but not taking part. At one point the emirs hailed him with drawn swords, and he acknowledged with a bow. Then he turned and strode off into the rapidly falling evening.

He had killed the Sultan and stained his robe with blood to show the emirs that he was one of them, but he remained apart now to show that he was above them.

His departure frightened Roland. Somehow, with Baibars present, Roland felt safer from the madness that possessed the Mamelukes. With Baibars gone, they might do anything.

Even as he thought this, he saw some of the emirs pointing at the prison galleys. They were a terrifying sight, their pale robes spotted with dark blood, their teeth glistening in their black beards like the fangs of wolves. Singing, chanting, shouting so wildly Roland could not understand a word they uttered, the whole group, a dozen or more, marched to the gangplank of this ship, where the King and his brothers were held.

Roland was surprised that he could still feel such a sharp pang of terror.

As they strode aboard the galley, the Mamelukes seemed to him in the grip of a frenzy. The defenseless, tatterdemalion crusaders fell back. Led by the emir carrying Turan Shah’s dripping heart, the Mamelukes tramped down the deck, straight for the King.

The blood-lust upon them, what was to stop them now from murdering an enemy ruler? Not us. We can slow them only as long as it takes for them to cut us down.

Even so, Roland, de Joinville, and a few others formed a protective half circle in front of Louis.

Saracen torchbearers ran up to flank the emir carrying the Sultan’s heart. He held it high, and Roland felt another wave of nausea. He was gently but firmly pushed aside by a hand on his shoulder from behind, and then the King was standing next to him, though still leaning on him for support.

The Mameluke emir made a mocking bow, holding out the heart as if it were some choice delicacy. “What reward will you give me, O King, for the heart of your enemy? He died by fire, water, and iron. If he had lived, he would have murdered you.”

Roland translated, turning to Louis, who stared coldly down at the Mameluke, the bones of his face casting deep shadows in the torchlight.

“Tell them I have nothing but scorn for those who murder their sovereign lord,” said Louis.

Roland froze. As he had feared, the King’s sense of honor was now going to be the death of all of them. There was such tension in his spine that he could feel his head quivering from side to side.

“Our King says he respected your Sultan as a brother monarch,” said Roland, “and he is anxious to know what your lord’s misdeeds were, that they merited his death.”

“Does your master think to put me on trial before him?” said the Mameluke angrily. “I saved his life, and I expect a reward. Very well!” He threw the heart down on the deck with a sodden thump.

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