The blond Norseman kicked over his stool and sprang to his feet in a fluid motion, his hand already reaching for his ax. But as he unfolded to his full height and realized the man opposite him was just as tall as he, his pose relaxed. A smile seeped across his weathered face, and he bowed his head slightly. “Monsieur d’Ibelin, we meet again.”
“May we join you?”
“I don’t believe I know your companions,” the Norseman replied with a significant look at the two men flanking Ibelin, both of whom were broad-shouldered and wearing hauberks and swords.
“Sirs Bartholomew and Galvin, and the lad over there is my squire Ernoul.” “Ah, the boy with the golden voice. We need to teach him a few Norse drinking songs. Sit down.” The Norse captain indicated empty stools at his own table.
While his lord and the knights sat down at the Norseman’s table, Ernoul dropped every coin he had into the girl singer’s battered cup, whispering in breathless enthusiasm as he did so, “You have the voice of an angel! What’s your name?”
“Thank you, sir! Thank you!” The girl was bowing and clutching her cup to her chest as if afraid someone might take it from her or she might spill the contents. Her tone of voice and the look on her face could have been no more fervent if he had just saved her life. “God bless you, sir!”
“Ernoul, bring our mugs over here!”
“Your name, angel? Please!”
“Coming, sir! Your name, angel?”
Ernoul grabbed the mugs and hurried over to the other table, but he was looking over his shoulder at the girl singer. He thought he heard her say “Alys” but he didn’t catch her last name.
As he joined his companions, his lord was saying in a low voice: “Last time we met, Master Magnussen, you boasted you could run the blockade again.”
“That was no boast. I can run it anytime I want,” Haakon Magnussen retorted.
“Then why stay here?”
“We came here to fight Saracens and regain the Holy Sepulcher, not run away!” The Norseman’s words were seconded by his men, many of them thumping their fists on the table for emphasis.
“Then you would favor an attack on the Sultan’s fleet?”
“One to ten?” Magnussen raised his eyebrows.
“Those are the usual odds here in Outremer, sometimes less, sometimes more. I’ve led charges often enough against cavalry ten times as strong. But of course, I know nothing about naval warfare.”
“Obviously,” Magnussen replied.
“Then I have my answer,” Ibelin answered in a level tone as he started to get to his feet.
Magnussen clamped his hand on Ibelin’s forearm and stopped him in mid-motion. “What does that mean?”
“The Marquis and I want to break the blockade. We thought if we could plant rumors in the enemy camp of growing disaffection and then simulate riots by the harbor, we might be able to lure the Sultan’s ships closer. Salah ad-Din knows this city is most vulnerable from the sea, and he knows that if he could penetrate the harbor with his ships, our landward walls with their towers, moats, and barbicans would be worthless. If we could lure the Sultan’s ships into the confined waters of the outer harbor and then strike them, we thought we might have a chance of destroying one or two. That would then reduce the odds to something more favorable, no?”
Magnussen snorted and gestured for Ibelin to sit down again. “And you say you don’t understand naval warfare? But the outer harbor isn’t good enough. There the Saracens could still bring their greater numbers to bear and force us onto the ledges. We need to lure them into the inner harbor, and that means dropping the chain.”
It was Ibelin’s turn to raise his eyebrows. “That sounds risky.”
“It is—but nothing would be better designed to lure the enemy into a sense of complacency. Furthermore, if morale were to crack in the city, then people would try to flee by sea, and to do that the chain has to be lowered. Load a Pisan merchantman to the gills with ballast so it appears to be carrying hundreds of passengers, then have it demand the lowering of the chain. Ideally we would make it appear that they are violating orders from Montferrat, and panicked people would throw themselves into the water to try to swim to the ship. If the Saracens are smart, they’ll ignore the bait and make a dash into the harbor—at least, one or two of them will. If they do that, we’ll take them, clear their decks, and turn them against their former masters.”
“You have enough men to do that?” Balian asked skeptically.
“Not enough men to man ships for a long voyage—but we don’t need to have relief crews, just a fighting crew. I could man three galleys with my own men and volunteers.”
“So, best case, we capture two additional galleys, and the odds become eight to three. Is that good enough to chase the blockaders away altogether in a second engagement?”
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