Ernoul was no longer any good for fighting; his shoulder was too weak. So while Ibelin with his knights and men-at-arms took up positions at the main landward gate, ready to fight off any assault by the Sultan’s troops, Ernoul stayed down by the harbor. His job, Ibelin told him, was to help create the impression of panic and chaos among the civilians, while Montferrat with the bulk of the garrison stealthily took up positions around the harbor walls and in the towers controlling the chain across the harbor mouth. Meanwhile, the Pisans and the Norse prepared to play their respective roles.
Ernoul was happy to foster the illusion of panic and found ready helpers among the tavern-keepers to whom he explained the plan. His main interest, however, was in finding Alys. She had to live down here somewhere, he told himself, probably among the refugees housed in the warehouses. Thus while going from tavern to tavern to explain the idea of creating the appearance of panic, he was also looking for Alys.
“We want to make it look like the rich have bought off the Pisans—”
“As they probably have!”
“—and the poor are trying to stop them. We want to have men shouting at each other! Brawling a little, even—”
“That shouldn’t be hard!”
“—and it wouldn’t hurt to have a hysterical woman or two. Do you know someone we could dress up as a wealthy merchant’s wife who could act like she’s trying to flee?”
“Oh, my Bess would love that role—I’ll just have to be sure she doesn’t really bolt!” the man laughed.
“She could have a daughter with her and be hysterical about what might happen to the poor girl—”
“Aw, don’t need that. Bess will make a fuss about her own virtue—such as it is.” He guffawed at his own joke.
“But it wouldn’t hurt to have a younger girl with her. What about that girl who was singing here the other night?”
“Who? Oh, you mean Alys? No idea where she sleeps. Probably with whoever fed her last, eh?” The tavern-keeper laughed again at his own joke and Ernoul turned away, disgusted. He was sure Alys wasn’t like that. You could tell just by looking at her.
As darkness fell, Montferrat ordered several bonfires lit in a square close behind the port. From beyond the walls, it would be impossible to tell the smoke wasn’t from burning houses, and the ringing of bells added to the impression that fires had broken out. Meanwhile more and more people converged on the harbor, and an atmosphere of excitement hardly had to be simulated; the growing tension was so tangible even the dogs started barking frantically. Soon Ernoul couldn’t decide how much of what was happening was play-acting and how much was real.
Two Pisan merchantmen lay alongside the quay and while some people tried to board, sailors fought them off, provoking outraged protests that grew in volume as the stars started to fade with the dawn. Then one of the wealthiest Genoese merchants made an appearance on the quay. He rode up on a brightly caparisoned palfrey and began loudly cursing the Pisans as traitors and cowards. While probably part of the script, this action was well designed to provoke fury among the Pisans, and soon genuine fighting broke out between Pisans and Genoese—an occurrence for which it generally took little excuse anyway.
By then the stars were bleached from the sky by the approaching sun, and the features of the people crowding the harbor began to emerge out of the retreating darkness. Ernoul at last located a figure that he thought might be Alys. A slight form in an oversized cloak was cowering near the doorway to one of the warehouses. Dodging the brawlers, Ernoul darted across the head of the harbor and plunged recklessly into the growing crowd of women and children collecting on the fringes of the fight. “Alys!” he called, craning his neck to look beyond the women nearest him. “Alys!”
Sure enough, the figure turned her face in his direction, and it was Alys. She was all frightened eyes in a pale face. “Alys!” Ernoul called again as he shoved his way through the other spectators until he was right before her. As he reached her, however, she seemed to shrink back and looked over her shoulder as if seeking a route of escape.
“Alys! Don’t you recognize me? I’m Ernoul. The troubadour. We met five days ago at the Pig’s Head!”
Suddenly her face lit up as she remembered his generous tip. “Oh! Yes!” But instantly it clouded again as she asked urgently, “What’s happening? Has the Marquis surrendered? What is to become of the poor? We have no money for passage or ransom! We’ll all be enslaved!”
“No, of course not. This is just a ruse!” Ernoul assured her with a dismissive gesture toward the brawl on the quay, where the Pisan ship was starting to cast off, while the Genoese merchant shouted insults from behind a row of Genoese archers with locked arms protecting him from shouting Pisan sailors.
Alys’ expression dismissed Ernoul as mad, and she started to turn away. He caught her arm. “Seriously!” Ernoul had to shout to be heard. “Lord Balian and the Marquis—” His words were cut off by outraged shouting. Someone had started screaming hysterically: “They’re lowering the chain! They’re lowering the chain! The Pisans! They’ve bribed the men on the tower!”
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