The Sultan flatly refused to return the True Cross, dismissed as preposterous the recognition of Frankish control over any place not securely in Frankish hands (i.e., Beirut and Sidon), and demanded that the Franks withdraw from Ascalon, Gaza, Darum, and Jaffa as well. The only territory he was willing to allow them to retain was the coast from Arsur to Tyre. It was this answer that Ibelin brought back to Jaffa.
Although Ibelin had been told that the English King was much better, he was still in bed. When he was told these terms, he turned his head to the wall, and did not speak for so long that Ibelin began to wonder if he had been dismissed. “Should I leave you, my lord?” he asked softly.
Richard shook his head, but he continued to stare at the wall. Ibelin began to fear that while the fever had broken, so had the Lionheart’s vaunted spirit. He did not like this reaction at all.
Champagne stepped closer to the bed. “Salah ad-Din knows you are ill and thinks we are helpless. Maybe we should undertake a quick offensive to demonstrate we are not without claws?”
Richard nodded, but so wearily that Champagne didn’t know if he really approved or not. He looked to his father-in-law.
“Maybe a different envoy would be more successful, my liege,” Ibelin suggested softly.
King Richard’s head rolled back, and he stared at him. “Why do you say that?” His voice was definitely stronger than it had been at their last meeting, and that was encouraging. His eyes were more focused, too.
Ibelin shrugged. “He offered me all of Palestine and I turned it down. That annoyed him.”
“I daresay. It would have annoyed me, too,” the King of England quipped with a flicker of humor. “Why did you turn it down?”
“The price was my soul.”
King Richard nodded and tried to sit up, gesturing for his nephew to help him. Champagne jumped forward, grasped him under the arm, and helped him to sit up, as one of his squires hastened over to stack pillows up against the headboard for him. Sitting up, King Richard no longer looked like a man about to die, and there was a spark of more than life in his eyes as well. There was still fire in his soul. “Look, Ibelin—if he respects you that much, then you are the best man for the job. Now tell me this: what do you honestly think he might concede?”
“He will never sign a peace treaty, because he has vowed to drive us into the sea. To accept in writing the Christian right to a sovereign presence here—no matter how small—is anathema to him. The most you can hope for is truce.”
“Fair enough. I intend to go home and teach Johnny a lesson he won’t forget—and Philip, too. But I will come back and finish what I started.” The Lionheart’s voice was not yet strong enough to carry across a battlefield, but the flame of determination was clearly burning again.
Ibelin smiled. “In that case, my lord, we have common ground. How many years do you need to teach your brother a lesson?”
“Two; but then I’ll need time to mobilize resources and build a fleet. Make it three.”
“Good,” Ibelin agreed.
“Next: the True Cross. What do you think, Ibelin? Can we get it back?” the King asked.
“No,” Ibelin admitted.
King Richard was astonished. “Why ever not? It means nothing to them.”
“That’s exactly why we won’t get it back. They’ve long since melted down the reliquary for its valuable metals and stones, and they’ve tossed away the wood inside.”
Richard was so appalled that he sat bolt upright. “Ibelin! Are you serious? You think it’s irretrievably lost?”
“Yes. To them it was just a piece of wood. A worthless piece of wood.”
“Even when I was negotiating for its return at Acre? You think they didn’t have it then?”
“Very probably not. That may be one reason the Sultan delayed and prevaricated. He might have been trying to find it—or something he could pass off as the sacred relic. He had something that he made Guy de Lusignan swear upon when he let him go—but between then and when you came, he had precious little use for a relic he did not revere.”
Richard thought about this and shook his head in disbelief, but he was also a practical man. He moved on. “What about the Sultan’s territorial demands?”
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