Reynald de Châtillon was having more trouble getting his bearings than he was prepared to admit. He abhorred weakness in anyone, especially himself—and so he could not admit to it, but things were happening too fast even for him. Fifteen years in a dungeon had taken from him much of the flesh on his bones and some of his vision as well. He still could not stand naked sunlight, and he instinctively sought shadows or shaded his eyes with a broad straw hat tied over his coif. He might look ridiculous, but Reynald had left vanity behind in the dungeon at Aleppo.
The Wheel of Fortune, he thought to himself, ought to be on his coat of arms. Born to a family of no consequence, he had come out to Outremer in the train of Louis VII of France, but rather than returning humiliated like his master, he had risen to become Prince of Antioch by seducing a sex-starved and stupid widow. Knowing he’d have nothing after her son came of age, he’d tried to take the Island of Cyprus from the Greeks—and he’d succeeded! But then the Emperor sent a fleet and robbed him of the fruits of his labors. After that he’d groveled in the dirt at the Greek Emperor’s feet in a display of abject submission, but the lesson Reynald took away from the incident was only that it was foolish to attack an island without control of the sea. So in subsequent years he’d turned eastward for new conquests—only unfortunately, through no fault of his own, he’d been captured by the Emir of Aleppo and thrown into a dungeon.
The dungeon was deep underground, with no windows to let in daylight. Air came, dank and foul, smelling of death and decay, from long, dark tunnels that led to other cellars, or possibly beyond the walls. Reynald never knew where all the tunnels led, because they were barred to him by iron grilles anchored in bedrock. Only one had seemed important: the one by which he’d entered and—fifteen years later—departed.
In the intervening years, he had lived like the rats in that dungeon: drinking the water that seeped from the walls and collected in dank pools on the stone floor, fighting over the bread and other scraps thrown to them, and shitting where he pleased. He’d seen more than one prisoner die in that dungeon, and he’d contributed to the death of others to be sure that rations never got too short—or when their ravings got on his nerves. Many men went mad in that dungeon; Reynald just became harder.
When he emerged from the dungeon, the Arabs had covered their noses and mouths at the stench of him, and even the bath slaves had made faces when ordered to clean him up. They had shaven off his filthy, matted hair, oiled him, and then scraped and scrubbed him until his white, sun-starved skin was as pink as a boiled crab. They had clipped and filed his toenails and fingernails, and then dressed him in a fine white robe with a turban and returned him to the King of Jerusalem.
It was only after he had been delivered to the Hospitaller castle of Krak des Chevaliers that he learned Baldwin III was dead; that was a bad shock. The second shock was hearing that Amalric, his brother and heir, was also dead. But the third shock had been the worst: learning that Amalric’s heir, Baldwin IV, was a boy suffering from leprosy. “So who the hell’s in charge?” Reynald demanded, already wondering if there were a widow to be seduced here as well.
“Raymond?” Reynald asked, incredulous. Then he sniffed in contempt.
The feelings were mutual.
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