All Things Are Lights – Day 185 of 200

Roland’s heartbeat sounded like thunder in his ears. Thank God! Thank God!

Louis held up a hand. “Wait, emir. What of Damietta?”

Baibars smiled, a little cruelly, Roland thought. “You have promised to give it to me, O King. You must deliver the city to me before you or any of your men can go free.”

Louis looked from Baibars to Roland. “But you say Amalric is in command there. My Queen and my son are in his power, and thousands of other unarmed Christians who accompanied us. If he learns that you have not slain me, and that I know of his treachery, he might murder them all. Or certainly use them as hostages.

“I will send a party of emirs to demand the delivery of the city,” said Baibars airily.

“You know he will refuse your emirs entry,” said Louis. “Their coming alone will be enough to let him know his plan has failed. He might even attack them, hoping to provoke your retaliation against us here. He will surely hurt the helpless ones in his power. Please, let me send a group of my barons. The men under Amalric’s command will recognize them and let them in. Then they can denounce Amalric and take command.”

“My emirs, I am afraid, would not permit that,” said Baibars. “I control them, as yet, with difficulty. Some would still prefer to kill you all, as Turan Shah intended. And to those willing to keep you alive, the person of each of your great lords is worth many thousands of bezants. They will not risk letting them go.”

“Let me go, sire.”

Roland had spoken so suddenly that he all but looked around himself to see where the words had come from. They hung in the air, in a silence in which Baibars and Louis stared at him. He felt his heart beating hard, not with fear but with eagerness for battle.

Louis looked doubtful, but in Baibars’s harsh features, Roland saw approval. Roland translated his offer into Arabic.

Baibars nodded. “I understood at once, from your face and your voice, what you were saying.”

Excitedly, Roland urged his idea on Louis. “I can bring the news of the treaty to Damietta, arrange for the evacuation of the noncombatants, and open the city to the emir’s men.”

“But first,” said Louis, “you must deal with Amalric.”

Baibars leaned forward, his good eye narrowed, and Roland translated for him. He nodded his head.

“I understand your need to do this thing,” he said. “But if you fail, and the Count Amalric holds the city against me, that is the death of my agreement with your King. The emirs insist that I get at least as much from you as Turan Shah had demanded. If we cannot achieve that, I do not know what will happen.”

There was another silence. All three of them, Roland thought, knew too well what would happen.

Louis said, “You are half starved, weakened as all of us are. You would be no match for Amalric.”

Roland felt a moment of self-doubt. Was he risking all their lives just to satisfy his yearning to fight Amalric?

No, he suddenly realized with surprise, it was not that. One man, alone must go to bring the King’s message and Baibars’s terms. And only he understood Amalric well enough to be ready for any counterattack he might make.

And besides, who else could rescue Nicolette from Amalric? “I will not have to face him alone.”

“How do you know that? He will have the support of the whole city. No one in Damietta understands what is happening.”

“Of course, sire. But I will carry a letter from you that appoints me as your emissary, details Amalric’s crimes, and conveys your order to surrender the city. We will make careful plans before I leave. And I have no doubt that Emir Baibars here knows more than we do of the forces in the city and their disposition. He, too, can advise me on who will work with us. He can also give me a letter.”

But most important for me, Roland thought, is that I must meet Amalric.

He no longer yearned for revenge. In these past weeks he had known such sorrows that the desire for vengeance had been burned out of him. Perrin was right. There was no retribution for the things Amalric had done. To attempt to inflict pain on that scale would make him into what Amalric had become. Roland longed only to meet Amalric, to strike him down. His wish had the simplicity of an arrow’s flight.

He looked questioningly at the King. Louis’s great blue eyes held his, and he could feel the King trying to penetrate his soul.

Roland held his breath.

“God go with you then,” said Louis, putting his hand on Roland’s shoulder.

Roland expelled a deep sigh of relief. And then came a sinking feeling. Can I do it? Can I really do it?

Louis turned to Emir Baibars. “What do you say, Emir Baibars? Shall this man of mine go up against Amalric?”

Baibars nodded. “I agree. He must go alone and enter the city before this Amalric can stop him. It is the only way.”

“You must try to find the loyal people in Damietta,” said Louis. “Get help as soon as you are inside the city.”

Baibars drew a heavy seal ring from his finger.

“I will give you a token by which you can command the help of my man who is in Count Amalric’s service.”

Roland took the ring, hoping he would be able to keep it as a memento of one of the most remarkable men he had ever met. If I live, he reminded himself wryly.

“How will I know your man?”

Baibars smiled. “You already know him. He calls himself Maurice.”

Roland was stunned. He heard Louis gasp beside him.

“Maurice!” Roland almost shouted. “I always thought he was a traitor.”

“It was he who spread the false command to surrender at Mansura,” said Louis in a desolate voice.

“He is no traitor,” said Baibars. “He has been a good Muslim for almost as many years as you have lived.” His face hardened. “Now perhaps you see that neither you, O King, nor the Count Amalric, nor even you, troubadour, ever had a chance of accomplishing your desires. All along it is we who have been in control.”

Yes, but soon now it will be over, Roland thought. And I can go home. We can all go home. If I overcome Amalric.

His heart filled with joy. Whatever happened, even if he were to die, he could hope for at least one last sight of Nicolette.

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