“You will not believe what my brother is proposing. He wants me to marry Salah ad-Din’s brother! A Muslim! He says it would be a way to end the war, the bloodshed, for all time! He says I would rule jointly with this al-Adil, and our children would ensure that the Holy City remained open to Christians ever after. I need your advice, Eschiva. Should I agree to such a proposal? Should I tell my brother to pursue it?” Even more than the way she looked, this agitation, completely at odds with her usual composure, revealed just how distressed Joanna Plantagenet was by this absurd idea.
Eschiva was cautious by nature. Before giving her own opinion, she asked, “What did Queen Berengaria say?”
“You know Ria! She’s besotted with my brother. In her eyes he can do no wrong! She says if he thinks this is a good idea, then I should be happy to play such a blessed role as “peacemaker”—and that I should count myself lucky to wear the “sacred” crown of Jerusalem as well! But what do I care about another crown if the price is marriage to a—Do you know anything about this al-Adil? What sort of man is he? Richard says in his letter that he met with him, and that he was very cultivated and charming.”
“Man to man, no doubt!” Eschiva answered, more sharply than intended. “Nor do I doubt that the Sultan’s brother is highly educated, well-dressed, clean, a patron of the arts, and many other admirable things, but he remains a Muslim. Whether he marries you or not, he will retain his other wives and concubines! And don’t forget that in Islamic law he can divorce you on a whim without cause any time he likes. No sooner will your brother sail away than he will be free to cast you off!”
Joanna blanched. She had forgotten that.
“And even if he doesn’t, you will have no voice in public—maybe not even in private. You will certainly never be allowed to show your face again to any man but him! Oh, my lady, I cannot imagine a fate worse than marriage to a Muslim—unless it is slavery to one! You must not let your brother do this to you!”
Joanna responded by wrapping her arms around Eschiva as she whispered, “Thank you!” It was said with so much heartfelt relief that Eschiva’s eyes flooded with tears.
After a moment, Joanna drew back and looked deeply into Eschiva’s face. “Thank you,” she repeated. “That was the way I felt, but I kept asking myself if I was being selfish. All night long I wondered if Berengaria was right, and if the lives of all those men who will die in this struggle weren’t more important than my personal happiness. Is it really my right to put my own happiness ahead of the lives of all the good Christian men who will die if we reject this settlement?”
“It is not that simple, my lady,” Eschiva answered steadily and firmly. “Sharia law does not recognize women as full humans—their word is worth only that of half a man. A woman can not sit or speak in the presence of men outside her family. She can not show her face to men outside her family. In legal suits, she must be represented by her father, husband or son. Indeed, a married woman cannot leave her house without the permission of her husband—even if it is to go only to the baths. How then could your marriage achieve anything so praiseworthy as Christian access to the Holy Places? As I said, al-Adil can divorce you at will—and after he does, then he can also throw the Christians out again. This is a farce. A red herring. Your brother should feel insulted that the Sultan thinks he is stupid enough to fall for such a transparent ruse!” Eschiva was genuinely indignant.
“You are sure of that?” Joanna asked, brightening up for the first time since she had read her brother’s letter.
“Of course I’m sure of it—and anyone from Outremer could tell him so. I don’t mean the Lusignans—Guy and Geoffrey never bothered to learn anything about their foes—but if you asked my uncle, or Sidon, or even Humphrey de Toron, he would tell you the same thing.”
“Oh, Eschiva, you are an angel from heaven!” Joanna embraced her again in boundless relief. “You have not only reassured me that I’m not just being selfish, you have given me the answer I need. I will not protest on my behalf, but point out to my dear brother that he is being hoodwinked! Nothing will better ensure that he says ‘no’!
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