As Ibelin entered, the Plantagenet was prowling the room like a caged lion, growling and snarling, while the bishops sat on edge looking even more nervous and ill at ease than the fighting men. At the sight of Ibelin, the Lionheart stopped and fired words at him as readily as he might have fired a crossbow. “Ibelin! We’ve been waiting for you. I want your opinion. Is the Sultan’s claim that he can’t find twenty-five hundred Frankish captives credible?”
“Not in the least,” Ibelin answered without hesitation, and he was gratified to see both Garnier de Nablus and Robert de Sablé nod agreement. “I estimate that more than thirty thousand Franks were taken captive after Hattin. While they will be dispersed across the Sultan’s territories, and some will have been sold to the Bedouins, it should not be difficult to pull together a tenth of that number.”
The King of England snapped at the embarrassed-looking English bishops. “See! Just what I told you! Now,” he swung back on Ibelin, “what happens to the captives if we kill the hostages?”
Taken aback by the abruptness of the question, Ibelin started slightly. He looked around at the other faces; all gazed back at him expectantly. Rather than answering immediately, he asked cautiously, “My lord King? Did I understand you correctly? You intend to slaughter the hostages?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” the Plantagenet growled back. “But it’s a possibility. First of all, I don’t like being treated like a fool who can be cheated, tricked, and mocked. The Sultan needs to learn that Richard Plantagenet is a man he has to take seriously. Second, I can’t waste any more time here in Acre; I need to open the campaign to retake Jerusalem, and that means taking the army down the coast. I can’t spare men to guard twenty-five hundred Saracen fighting men on the march, and leaving them here would be inviting a Saracen attack at my back to free them and regain Acre. Third, there is the small issue of the slaughter of 250 helpless Templars and Hospitallers, which should not be completely ignored as if we did not care about our own men. Fourth, the siege of Acre has cost Christendom heavily. I’ve been told that no less than six archbishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, twelve bishops, forty counts, and upwards of five hundred other noblemen, have died in the siege of Acre, while thousands of good Christians of humble birth have given their lives. Last—and most important—because of those losses and the Sultan’s broken promises, those men out there are furious and need an outlet for their anger.” He pointed toward the windows lit up by the orange glow of fire, although it appeared a darker shade now, as if the fires were being put out. “We don’t want the troops to take out their fury on the innocent people of Acre, do we? No, we don’t,” he answered himself, “and we don’t want them killing each other, either. I say the rightful outlet for their anger is the Saracens, who not only pray to a false God but follow a deceitful and duplicitous Sultan. Now, my lord of Ibelin, I want an answer from you: what will the Sultan do to the captives if we kill the hostages?”
After the arguments just listed for the execution of the hostages, Ibelin was amazed that the English King had given any thought at all to the fate of the captives. For that he was grateful.
“Well?” the English King demanded impatiently.
“My lord, the bulk of the captives are women and children, and they are by and large the property of various subjects of the Sultan. He will have had to pay compensation to their respective owners to take away their property. If they have lost their value to him as a means of regaining the hostages, he will be anxious to avoid the expense of paying for them; he will return them to their respective owners.”
“You don’t think he would slaughter them in revenge?”
Ibelin thought hard, knowing how much hung on what he was about to say. When he answered, he glanced at Toron. “I’m not saying the Sultan is not capable of such an act of barbarism. He burned the women and children of his Sudanese guard alive in their homes—and then broke his word to their men as well, slaughtering them after they had surrendered their arms and left Cairo—”
“You say that about a man who treated you so chivalrously!” Humphrey de Toron burst out angrily. “Tell King Richard how he treated you after you broke your word to him!” Toron added challengingly.
The crusaders swung their attention from one “poulain” to the other, evidently entertained by the tension between Ibelin and Toron.
“I doubt the King of England is terribly interested in the courtesies the Sultan showed a princess of the Greek Imperial family,” Ibelin answered evenly. “The point is that the Sultan is capable of slaughtering women and children and of butchering helpless prisoners. But he is also capable of restraint. It depends entirely on where he sees his self-interest in a particular situation. My estimate, my lord,” Ibelin turned his attention away from Toron to again address the English King, “is that Salah ad-Din would rather restore the slaves to their owners and spare his treasury the costs of compensation—but I could be wrong.”
Richard Plantagenet met his eyes and held them for a moment. Then he nodded grimly. “We execute them tomorrow in full view of Salah ad-Din’s army. We’ll need troops to hold back any attempt by Salah ad-Din’s troops to rescue them, and we’ll need volunteers to carry out the executions. I will not order any man to kill unarmed prisoners.” The last remark was directed at his bishops, who were shaking their heads and looking distressed.
The response of the fighting men was more relieved than censorious. “I don’t think you’ll lack for volunteers,” Burgundy remarked dryly, and Leicester nodded agreement.
“And you, my lord of Ibelin, where will you be?” King Richard asked provocatively.
“On my knees praying that I am right, your grace.”
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