All Things Are Lights – Day 188 of 200

She released his hand, and prayed with all her being that her appeal would move him.

He sat silent for a long time, frowning at the table. Finally, he looked up. “What can I do?”

Tears of relief sprang to her eyes.

“Take me to the palace,” she said quickly, terrified that in the next instant he might change his mind. “Take me to the Queen. I will tell her everything.”

He uttered a little laugh of dismay. “You will get me hanged.”

“No, no, I shall not tell her about you. Let her think you are a good old crusader who saw through Amalric and is helping me. She will probably reward you, if you want to wait around long enough. But after we have gathered our trustworthy men and deposed Amalric, you can leave for the Saracen camp.”

“You make it all sound so easy, Madame. Count Amalric has many of the palace guard in his pay, you know. He himself may be at the palace right now.”

“Get me past them and help me to talk to the Queen alone,” she said. “Sire Geoffrey de Burgh is always at the Queen’s side. He well help us get in.”

Maurice shook his head. “He is no longer with the Queen. The Count placed Sire Geoffrey in charge of the guards on the city walls. All the men in the palace now are your husband’s.”

“You said Agnes is at the palace. She can let us know when it is safe to try to get to the Queen.”

Again he hesitated, and her heart stopped in fear. It was so quiet in the room that she could hear his breathing. His gaze wavered, and he shut his eyes for a moment.

He reached out and took her hand, and the suffering in his faded eyes frightened her.

“Madame, be strong. I have to tell you something terrible.”

She felt as though her heart had stopped. “What?”

“Agnes is dead.”

She felt herself swaying in her chair. Maurice sprang to her side and held her steady.

“Oh my God. No. Oh, no, not Agnes.” Sobs bubbled up in her throat.

“Yes, Madame,” he said gently. “She is gone. And there is more I will tell you if you can stand to hear.”

She trembled against him.

“Yes, tell me,” she sobbed. “What happened to her?”

“Your husband killed her. To silence her.”

Dazed, she listened as he told her how Amalric had strangled Agnes and left her body in a room right here on the second floor, telling him to dispose of it.

“Before I put her body on the dead cart, Madame, I prayed over her. Muslim prayers, but they were honest. She lies buried now in the great grave before the palace.”

“Oh, Agnes” was all she could say. Even her tears had stopped. She felt so empty inside.

My poor loyal friend. Why did I have to drag you to this awful place with me, only to have you die so horribly?

“He did not have to do it, Madame. There were a dozen other ways to make sure she would not make trouble.”

“He did it because he hates me so much,” she said in a lifeless voice.

Maurice put his hands on her shoulders and stared into her face.

“You cannot blame yourself, and you cannot give up. When a man’s comrades fall in battle, he cannot stop to mourn. He must go on fighting. You are in a battle now.”

Yes, she thought. And suddenly hatred boiled up inside her. There is only one thing I can do for Agnes now. Avenge her.

I swear by your memory, Agnes, I shall destroy Amalric.

She stood up, her chair scraping on the floor.

Maurice shook a clenched fist. “We shall repay the Count for what he has done to your poor Agnes. Get your mantle, Madame, and let us go to the palace.”

She kissed his withered cheek lightly.

“Muslim or Christian, Master Maurice, you are a good man.”

Amalric stood at Queen Marguerite’s bedside, making an effort to be courteous that was almost beyond his strength. Seething, he bowed to her, his mail clinking softly, his battle-ax swinging heavily from his belt.

“Madame, with your permission I shall make my daily report on the condition of our defenses.”

He waited with irritation as she adjusted the position of the stinking infant in her arms. As she looked up at him at last, her face appeared so bony, and there were huge dark rings under her eyes. She had never been as pretty as Nicolette, he thought. Now she was beginning to look like a crone.

“Speak, Messire. If we can do nothing else, we can keep our walls in good order and our men alert.”

Rage boiled in him. How dare she presume to inflict these platitudes on him, pretending to be his commander? Oh, how he longed for the moment when he could crush her with the truth.

But when, in God’s name, would that moment come? For two days he had eaten little; for two nights he had hardly slept. If he did not have word from the Sultan today, surely he would go mad.

Even as Amalric made his report, knowing that he would make sure the defenses were of no consequence, his mind wandered. A devil kept whispering in his ear, What if the Sultan betrays me?

He had thought it through. He would hold the city for a while, at least. Long enough to provoke the Sultan into massacring the captives. He had enough men in his pay to take the Templars by surprise — they would hardly be suspecting an attack from their fellow Christians, to whose aid they had come — and seize the ransom money. And then, when I hold the treasure, Turan Shah will agree to terms.

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