The emissary bowed deeply in acknowledgement and came up smiling to turn his gaze on Ibelin. Still speaking French for the benefit of the audience, he announced, “My lord of Ibelin, your brother sends his greetings and assurances of his well-being, while the Sultan sends his compliments on your courage.”
Ibelin dutifully acknowledged the compliment with a nod of his head and waited for the ax to fall.
“Such a brave and noble prisoner is of great worth to the entire Kingdom,” the Mamluke continued, bowing to the King and smiling to the others in the room, “but to no one more than his beloved brother, I am sure.”
Balian wanted to tell him to stop drawing out the torture and spit out the price, but he managed to bow and smile instead.
“The Sultan would be delighted to return your brother, the Baron of Ramla and Mirabel, in exchange for two hundred thousand bezants.”
The gasps of the others in the room made it unnecessary for Balian to reply. The price was absurd. It was a king’s ransom, not a baron’s. It was Salah ad-Din’s revenge for his tough bargaining over three youths of no importance. The Sultan would no doubt argue that if mere boys of good family were worth ten thousand bezants in Balian’s book, then barons—and brothers—must be worth ten times that amount—or twenty times, as the case now stood.
Balian smiled and bowed deeply to the emissary. “My brother is indeed worth two hundred thousand bezants,” he said to the mutters and whispered exclamations of his peers. “Whether Ramla and Mirabel can pay two hundred thousand bezants is another story. Your master will hear from me after I have had time to assess the resources at my disposal.”
The emissary bowed deeply, and moved on to name the other prisoners and their prices, but Balian wasn’t listening. His ability to listen was blocked out by the rushing of blood in his ears and the lameness of his brain. He was overpowered by the knowledge that he could not possibly raise that kind of money—not even if he pawned his own and his brother’s barony, not even if he sold every movable thing he owned, not even if he sold himself and his soul. The thought of Barry chained in the darkness for the rest of his life was so intolerable, however, that he felt as if he could not breathe.
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