Then one day, the door opened, and Aimery was ordered out into the bright and blinding light. His filthy robes were taken away, and he was sent to a bathhouse, thoroughly cleaned by the attendants, and given Frankish clothes that had belonged to someone else. They were worn and didn’t quite fit, but they made him feel more human. He was given cheap shoes, a simple belt, and a straw hat as well. His transformation complete, he was taken to a pleasant hall with tall windows. These were covered with latticework that let in the breeze but not much sunlight, making it pleasantly cool. A fountain gurgled in the center of the room. As Aimery stood blinking at his surroundings, a tall man in the distinctive robes and head-covering of a physician separated himself from a group of men and approached. “Sir Aimery?”
“Abu Sulayman Dawud.” The man bowed as he introduced himself. “I was tasked with negotiating your ransom by King Amalric and can report the payment has now been made. You are free to depart tomorrow. I have arranged a horse and an escort for you. First, however, the vizier has asked to meet you.”
“My ransom has been paid?” Aimery could hardly believe it. “All of it?”
“The king paid the bulk of it,” the doctor explained, but Aimery could not think why the king would do such a thing and was more confused than ever, rendering him dumb. “Come, join me for some sherbet and almonds,” Abu Sulayman urged, gently touching Aimery’s elbow. “You could be summoned at any moment.”
It was not until hours later that the summons came, but it didn’t matter, Aimery was still in a daze. He dutifully bowed low before the sultan and followed every instruction whispered to him by Abu Sulayman, who he by then knew to be a Coptic Christian and world-renowned physician. Abu Sulayman attended Prince Baldwin of Jerusalem and moved back-and-forth between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Egypt without difficulties. He had made an ideal go-between.
Still in a daze, Aimery was unable to notice many details. He registered great luxury in the sultan’s palace. There were beautiful gardens with peacocks strutting and pecking between bubbling fountains, pavilions with elaborate latticework, floors paved with polychrome marble in elegant patterns, walls faced with glazed tiles, and lots of silent slaves. He was received by the sultan surrounded by courtiers: some with swords and armor and others with the manicured but ink-stained hands of scholars and priests the world over. The men of the sword wore silks of vivid colors; peacock feathers adorned their turbans and jewels glinted on the hilts of their daggers. The men of the pen were imams in sober robes with long beards. The sultan was a cross between these two extremes. He was clearly a man of the sword, with a darkly-tanned face and honed muscles, although he was not slender. He wore armor under his silk coat and a dagger at his hip. Yet, he was more soberly dressed than his companions. There was an earnestness and purposefulness about him.
When invited, Aimery sat on the floor before the sultan and accepted the chilled water offered him in a silver chalice. “So, Sir Aimery,” The sultan opened, his words translated by Abu Sulayman, “My friend King Amalric has come to your rescue. He talked me into lowering your ransom by half and paid it himself. He must be very fond of you.”
Aimery didn’t know what to say as he couldn’t think why the king would be so generous. He stammered out something about being very honored.
“He tells me you are to marry an heiress and will be one of his emirs in due time.”
Aimery was more astonished than ever and could again do no more than mumble pleasantries.
“We are both determined, it seems, to conquer the other’s kingdom. Neither of us will be content until we have destroyed the other. I respect him for that, but when you see him, I beg you to remind him that God is on my side, and he will fail. If you want to enjoy your barony, Sir Aimery, you would do well to see the light and convert to the True Faith before it is too late.”
Aimery had looked at Abu Sulayman, and the courtiers had broken into laughter. Aimery wasn’t sure why. Shortly afterwards, Aimery was dismissed, still no wiser about why he had been summoned. After they were out of the palace, he asked Abu Sulayman what this charade had been about.
The latter shrugged. “He’s like that. He likes to know his enemies.”
“But I’m so insignificant.”
“Not as Baron of Ramla-Mirabel and Ibelin.”
“But I’m not Baron of Ramla-Mirabel and Ibelin.”
Abu Sulayman shrugged. “That’s what King Amalric said in his offer: that you would marry the heiress to Ramla-Mirabel and Ibelin.”
“Does the present baron know this?”
“Please, sir, I am only the messenger. I have no knowledge of what arrangements the king has made.”
So Aimery found himself on the road to Ramla, riding an ancient, battle-scarred gelding (the best Abu Sulayman could obtain for him). He was accompanied by two Coptic youths who would continue to Damascus in Abu Sulayman’s service as soon as they had seen him safely to Ramla.
Aimery’s emotions were volatile. At one moment, he was soaring with the seagulls and dancing on the fresh breeze off the sea. The next, he was lamed by shame. He was dressed worse than a journeyman and was riding a broken-down gelding. Was he the future Baron of Ramla? Or was it all some kind of royal joke? And if so, on who and why? He didn’t understand any of it.
His reception at Ramla only reinforced his confusion. The baron himself welcomed him heartily, throwing his arm over his shoulders and slapping him on the back. He sent two squires to help him with his bath and provided him with a complete set of suitable clothes, including a hauberk worth at least 100 bezants. “It belonged to my older brother. He can’t use it anymore, and I’m sure he’d be happy to help a returned prisoner. Spent a year in a Saracen prison himself, you know?”
The Lady of Ramla, on the other hand, had barely acknowledged him. A singularly sour woman who looked old already, she had not smiled once. She had snatched her hand away when he bowed to kiss it. Aimery felt sorry for Ramla. It must be a foretaste of hell to be married to such a plain and unpleasant woman for the rest of one’s life. The worst of it, however, was the thought that he was to be married to her daughter. What if the girl turned out to be like her? What if, fourteen years from now, he was in Barry’s shoes, tied to an ugly, shrew of a wife? The thought gnawed at him. Then again, he reminded himself, Ramla’s daughter came with a barony, a rich and bountiful barony, a green and fertile barony on the road between Jaffa and Jerusalem. It was almost paradise on earth.
Besides, the girl—what was her name?—was only eight-years-old. He would marry her as Barry wanted, and leave her in her mother’s care for the next eight years or so. After that, God only knew, but Aimery had new faith in God’s love because he viewed his release from Saracen captivity as a miracle. He’d promised God so many things for his release, he could not even remember them all. As it was, he would never be able to fulfill all the promises that he did remember.
Yet slowly, as the horrors of imprisonment receded, he began to believe that God had saved him for a purpose—for His purpose. Aimery could not imagine what that purpose was, but he told himself he must trust in God, who had, after all, delivered him from imprisonment and restored him to an unexpected and, indeed, unearned fortune.
As he went to a comfortable, clean-smelling bed after a delicious meal and his first wine in more than a year, Aimery felt not just grateful, but truly touched by destiny. If God had saved him for a purpose, then he had an obligation to live up to whatever task God set him. As he drifted off to sleep, he also promised himself that when the time came, to be a good husband to the little girl who brought him Ramla.
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