All Things Are Lights – Day 196 of 200

She smiled up at him. “I say that we have done so many impossible things already, it should be no great feat to keep Love alive. Even married. I will not let you be apart from me ever again.”

The baking sun beat down on his head as he walked. Now he saw Queen Marguerite in the gateway of the palace, waiting to meet them. All had changed so, and in so short a time, that he felt dizzy with the wonder of it. He walked slowly, feeling a radiant joy all around him, to present the two letters he had carried here to Marguerite, and to tell her that Louis, their King, was safe and would soon return to her.

XXXVI

Roland turned his attention from the river to gaze behind him, at the walls of Damietta. A dozen large Saracen banners, dark silhouettes against the flush of the early morning sun, hung in the windless sky above the battlements. They reminded him that Mameluke scimitars were poised still over them all. Tension clawed at Roland’s stomach. The Mamelukes have everything now — the city, the treasure, and the King. We are only hours away from being free, and yet Baibars with a word could destroy us all.

He wondered how the King felt, seeing these Saracen banners. He stood beside Louis in front of a tent the Egyptians had set up on the bank of the Nile. Louis wore the black silk coat the Sultan had given him, the only decent garment he had left. Roland was in French clothing borrowed from the Sire de Burgh, including a dark blue tunic, with the jeweled scimitar Baibars had given him at his waist. It seemed a good sign that the Egyptians had let the few knights in the city keep their weapons. But then they know they have nothing to fear from us, Roland thought wryly.

They stood where the Mamelukes had brought Louis by boat shortly after sunrise. Now they watched silently as the Templars arrived with chests filled with coins loaded on ox carts and piled the chests inside a large tent. He saw the Egyptian galleys loaded with the remnants of the army slowly being rowed down the river and mooring along the bank.

“There is Baibars,” said Roland, recognizing the tall figure in a long red robe coming down the gangway of the first galley. Egyptian soldiers on shore bowed low.

Soon Baibars was facing them, and Roland and Louis bowed to him. His gilded helmet, partially covered by a green turban, flashed in the sunlight.

“I wish I could have seen you kill this Count Amalric, Sire de Vency,” he said with a smile. “I am told it was a magnificent fight.”

“So it may have been, to watch,” Roland said wryly. “For my part, I pray that I may never have to have another fight so magnificent.”

Baibars laughed. “You are a brave man, but perhaps you have not the true warrior spirit.” Then he frowned. “I am sorry we lost Mukaddam ben Faris. That old Frank was one of my best men and very dear to me.”

“I believe we are much in that man’s debt as well,” said Roland.

Baibars held out his hand. “I must have back the ring you were to show him. It was given me by a lady very dear to me.”

Roland, disappointed, took the heavy ring from the pouch at his belt and gave it to Baibars. He remembered hearing the same fond tone in Baibars’s voice when he spoke of the Sultana, Spray-of-Pearls.

“Do not look so downcast, Roland de Vency. The scimitar is far more precious than this antique ring, and it is my gift to you. You have earned it well. I hope that one day you will show it to your grandsons and tell them how you came by it.”

“It served me well,” said Roland with a bow.

In French he summed up for Louis what he and Baibars had been saying.

“Where is Amalric buried?” Louis asked Roland.

“At the Queen’s command we left him where he lay, Sire, his own dagger still in his head. The gravediggers just shoveled earth over the body.”

“Let him be forgotten. When we return to France we will expunge his very name from our records.” He shook his head as if to cast out the memory of Amalric. “Will the emir enter this tent to see the treasure my kingdom presents to his?”

Baibars stepped back respectfully to allow the King to go into the tent first. Roland followed the two leaders. Within, all appeared ready for the counting. At a long table, six Egyptian scribes and six Lombard clerks brought by the Templars sat facing each other. A row of Templars stood before the treasure-filled chests. Baibars approached and they stepped aside, allowing him to open one of the oaken boxes. He thrust his strong fingers in among the silver coins, lifting up a handful and letting them trickle back into the chest.

“Explain to him that these are livres Tournois, minted at Tours, a larger and heavier coin than the gold bezant,” said Louis.

When Roland repeated this in Arabic Baibars smiled. “I know the value of every kind of Christian coin. I also know that these men” — he gestured at the Templars — “guard the royal treasury of France.”

Among the Templars was the one with the shining white beard. He nodded almost imperceptibly to Roland.

Baibars, leading them outside again, said, “You have endured crushing hardship with calm and courage, O King of the Franks. Do you know that there were those among the Mameluke emirs who admired you so much they wanted, were you to convert to Islam, to make you Sultan to replace him whom we slew?”

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