“My lords!” the King’s voice rang out sharply. It had started to rasp, as lepers’ voices so often did, but it was forceful enough, and the mumbling and chattering ebbed away. “I have summoned the High Court to consider an embassy from the Sultan Salah ad-Din.” That got the attention of most of the men in the room, while the King paused and focused his eyes on the bald-headed Lord of Oultrejourdain. “The Sultan Salah ad-Din demands the restoration of all goods seized illegally from a caravan crossing south of Montreal, and—most important—restitution for the cold-blooded murder of thirty-two men and forty-seven women and children.”
Oultrejourdain shrugged demonstratively. “Can’t be done. My men have already consumed or gambled away most of their plunder.”
“The Sultan demands one hundred pieces of silver for each man, and fifty for each woman and child,” the King continued as if he had not been interrupted.
Oultrejourdain snorted. “Bah! He doesn’t expect to see an obol of it! He’s looking for an excuse to attack us.”
“He doesn’t have to look for an excuse to attack, since you’ve already handed him one on a silver platter!” Tripoli snapped in a voice loud enough for all to hear.
“What I did, Tripoli, was prevent Salah ad-Din from seizing Aleppo!” Oultrejourdain retorted, twisting at the waist to fling this over his shoulder contemptuously at his fellow baron.
“You could have done that without attacking and plundering the caravan!” Ramla countered hotly in support of Tripoli.
“Well, I had to give the men something, or they wouldn’t be keen to fight next time. And there is always a next time,” Châtillon reminded them.
“What is more important to you? Keeping your men happy or your King?” Edessa asked sternly—but his fat, balding figure hardly evoked respect from anyone, much less Oultrejourdain.
“Asked like that, Edessa: my men,” Oultrejourdain retorted, causing some of the men in the room to shake their heads in disapproval or disgust, but others to smile. One of the latter was Guy de Lusignan. He was clearly amused by the remark and cast Oultrejourdain an approving look. Balian looked sharply from one man to the other. That would be an unholy alliance if ever there was one, he thought. A ruthless man like Oultrejourdain would make a vain but spineless man like the younger Lusignan dance to his tune!
“Well, I hope, my lord, you find it equally amusing to learn that a Christian ship with 1,676 souls on board has been seized by the Sultan’s men, and all are being held captive,” continued the King, drawing the attention of his barons back to the issue at hand.
“What? Has the Sultan taken to piracy? I didn’t think he had a navy.” Oultrejourdain sounded surprised but not contrite.
“The ship went aground off Damietta in a storm that had blown her off course.”
“God’s will be done,” Oultrejourdain intoned, harvesting a crop of reproaches and admonishments from the clerical members of the High Court—but everyone in the room knew that Reynald de Châtillon didn’t give a damn for the opinion of the Church.
“So, my lord, you will not pay restitution?” King Baldwin pressed him.
Oultrejourdain spread out his arms dramatically. “Will restitution bring back the dead? If the Sultan wanted an eye for an eye, then he’d keep the same number of prisoners as I killed—less than a tenth of those he holds—and let the rest go free. But believe me, he does not want restitution; he wants war.”
“And whose fault is that?” Tripoli taunted again.
“Not mine!” Oultrejourdain rejoined. “The Sultan has wanted war ever since he was strong enough to confront us.”
“Silence!” the King called from the dais, and then waited until the muttering and side conversations had died out again. When silence had settled upon the room, he addressed the company. “You have heard the Lord of Oultrejourdain, my lords. He will not pay restitution, not even to save 1,676 Christian souls from Muslim slavery. So, will the rest of you raise the money between you?” Baldwin asked, his eyes sweeping the room for reaction.
“Better to save the money to prepare our defenses, your grace. Whether Oultrejourdain should have done what he did nor not, the dye is now cast. There will certainly be war,” the lord of Caesarea remarked heavily, earning nods across the room.
“My lord bishops?” Baldwin challenged the clerical members of the High Court. “What say you?”
“Your grace,” the Bishop of Bethlehem spoke up, “if I believed Salah ad-Din would release the Christians for any sum of money, I would willingly contribute my share, but I fear that what the Lord of Oultrejourdain has said is right: Salah ad-Din wants war.”
King Baldwin looked across the room until his eyes came to rest on Balian and his brother. He couldn’t bear to look at Balian, because of his guilty conscience; he felt guilty about taking Isabella from her mother, and even guiltier about turning his back on the man who had been his only friend in his youth. So he focused on Ramla instead. “My Lord of Ramla, you have met Salah ad-Din face to face. What say you? Will he negotiate with us, or does he want war?”
“If we held anything of value to him—like his nephew or Eilat—he would surely negotiate, but he does not need our gold or silver. Of both he already has far more than we. For mere coin, he will not abandon his jihad.”
The King nodded slowly. “Then, my lords, let us arm ourselves.”
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