When Ibelin was brought into the tent by Farrukh-Shah, Salah ad-Din looked immaculate, jewels glinting on his fingers and his turban.
By contrast, the Baron of Ibelin definitely looked the worse for wear. His surcoat had been cleaned and ironed, but it was also darned in several places. Likewise, his splendid chain mail with the bronze trim had been hastily repaired with wire to bind together the cuts sliced in it at Hattin. The number of places where such repairs had been required testified to how hotly he had fought. Salah ad-Din was not certain, but he thought Ibelin also looked older than the last time they had met. He could not remember the streak of gray that grew out of his right sideburn and that he wore tucked behind his ear.
For all that, the Baron of Ibelin was not broken. He bowed formally to the Sultan, but when he righted himself he stood straight and yet at ease, his exceptional height giving him a certain sovereignty.
“So we meet again,” the Sultan opened, gesturing for Ibelin to sit where Farrukh-Shah had sat only moments earlier. Ibelin dutifully folded up his legs to sit cross-legged on the floor opposite the Sultan. The latter clapped his hands and iced water was brought to Ibelin, who took it with a faint smile that suggested he had somehow heard the story about the ice water offered Guy de Lusignan—but not Reynald de Châtillon—after the Battle of Hattin.
The Sultan considered his guest with his head tilted slightly to one side. “It pleases me to have you as my guest,” he remarked, adding, “I had hoped it would be sooner.”
Ibelin smiled faintly. “I cannot honestly say I am sorry to disappoint you.”
Salah ad-Din threw back his head and laughed before conceding, “Well said. Tell me one thing, though. When you charged, did you truly intend to kill me?”
“If I could have reached you with my sword, absolutely—even if it cost me my life, as it surely would have.”
“Because then your army would have collapsed in confusion—at least long enough for more of my compatriots to escape. Furthermore, the succession squabbles would have kept your empire preoccupied with itself long enough for us to recover. At least there was a chance of that happening. It was well worth the risk.”
“Um,” the Sultan answered noncommittally before pointing out, “the death of Guy de Lusignan, on the other hand, would have been more to your advantage than mine.”
Ibelin could not deny it, but he hesitated to confirm it, so he held his tongue. After waiting a few seconds for an answer, Salah ad-Din moved on. “You asked for this audience. What can I do for you?”
“I have heard rumors that you have requested the surrender of Jerusalem.”
Salah ad-Din raised his eyebrows. “Does that surprise you?”
“No,” Ibelin admitted. “The rumors say that you offered very generous terms.”
“And does that surprise you?” Salah ad-Din asked again, evidently amused.
“No,” Ibelin admitted a second time.
“I do not want to see the holy sites damaged,” the Sultan explained voluntarily. “Trebuchets and mangonels are far from accurate weapons. Even if I tried to avoid it, damage might occur to the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa mosque.”
“Indeed,” Ibelin concurred.
“Unfortunately,” Salah ad-Din continued, frowning, the annoyance in his voice too intense to be concealed, “these fools who claimed to represent Jerusalem, a collection of tradesmen and churchmen,” the Sultan dismissed them in disgust, “could not see reason! They would not think of surrender, although they have no chance of defending the city against my army. Fools and fanatics!” he spat out furiously.
“Fanatics are always dangerous,” Ibelin agreed cautiously.
Salah ad-Din looked over at him with sudden interest. “Do you think you could bring them to reason?” he asked hopefully, suddenly seeing a chance to use Ibn Barzan to get what he wanted: the intact surrender of Jerusalem.
“What exactly did they say to your offer of safe-conduct out of the city?” Ibelin asked back.
“They said they would never surrender the city where Christ had shed his blood for them! They said if they did, they would be damned for eternity. Or some such nonsense.” He dismissed the argument contemptuously.
Ibelin smiled wanly and, shaking his head, told the Sultan, “In that case—no, I will not be able to change their minds.”
“Why not?” the Sultan asked, annoyed. He was very angry about the refusal of the Franks to surrender Jerusalem, and he liked the idea of Ibn Barzan delivering it to him.
“If that was their answer,” Ibelin explained simply, “then they were not bargaining with you. They are preparing for martyrdom.”
“Martyrdom!” Salah ad-Din scoffed. His tone of voice was colored by his utter conviction that beyond death, no Christian could ever find anything but hell. Ibelin said nothing and waited for the Sultan to calm down. Salah ad-Din narrowed his eyes. “I have vowed to kill them all—just as you Franks killed all the inhabitants a hundred years ago.”
“We didn’t kill all the inhabitants,” Ibelin countered. “The Count of Toulouse saved many, and others survived as well—after the initial blood lust had slacked.” They stared at one another, neither willing to back down on this point. Finally Ibelin continued, “I do not think you will besmirch your name by insisting on the slaughter of women, children, and old people—after an example has been made, of course.”
“We will see.” Salah ad-Din was not willing to let any hint of possible mercy get into the enemy camp—at least not yet. “Why are you here, my lord? I do not think it was just to pass the time of day with me.” Salah ad-Din smiled courteously, but he clearly wanted Ibelin to come to the point.
“I wish permission—a safe-conduct—to travel to Jerusalem and bring my wife and family out—before you lay siege to it.”
“Ah.” Salah ad-Din considered his adversary. He honestly could not understand him. This man was undoubtedly intelligent and courageous, and at no previous time had he been as powerful as now. He was virtually King of Jerusalem. The Count of Tripoli had scuttled back to Tripoli, by all accounts a broken man. Edessa had taken his treasure and run to safety in Antioch. Sidon had sent word secretly that the great victories of the Sultan’s armies had convinced him that God favored Islam. He admitted that Christianity was “obsolete” and asked for instruction in the words of the Prophet. This Conrad de Montferrat was of good family, but the Sultan’s spies suggested he had fled Constantinople in fear for his life after some mysterious fallingout with the Emperor; he had neither followers nor titles here in Palestine. Ibn Barzan was the only man with any credibility, standing and authority in the entire Kingdom. And here he was, asking a favor of his enemy so he could secure his wife? Ridiculous. Wives were replaceable commodities and largely interchangeable. One was very much like another—at least, good, obedient wives were.
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