Ibelin got to his feet at the sight of the Sultan and bowed from the waist, while Imad ad-Din bowed his head all the way to the floor. The Sultan seated himself directly opposite Ibelin, flanked by his brother and son, and made sure Ibelin had received refreshments before inquiring about his journey and health. He used the assurances of good health from his guest to segue into inquiring after King Richard’s health. “We hear he has been very ill.” The Sultan wanted his guest to know how well informed he was. “Has he regained lucidity?”
“Well enough to give me his instructions,” Ibelin answered steadily. He had not doubted for a minute that Salah ad-Din knew the state of King Richard’s health—probably as well as any of them.
“I hear he craves fruit,” the Sultan continued. “If you would allow me, I will send him the very best plums and pears from Damascus as a gift for Malik Rik from me. We just received a caravan with fresh fruit.”
Ibelin bowed his head again in thanks. “That is very generous of you, Excellency, and would be most welcome.”
“The air of Jaffa is not the best. I suspect he would feel better sooner if he moved to someplace higher.”
“The air of Jaffa was left putrid with corpses, but it has improved much over the last week,” Ibelin answered with a smile, taking mental note that the Sultan still had his eyes on Jaffa and would attack the moment Richard was gone.
The Sultan’s mouth smiled back; his eyes did not. “What is it that Malik Rik has asked you to convey to me?”
“Nothing that you do not already know: that your army is exhausted, your emirs in rebellion, your troops insolent, and your treasury depleted.”
As Ibn Barzan spoke, al-Afdal’s face flushed, and he could not contain his indignation. Even before Ibelin had fully finished, he burst out, “Those are lies! All lies! We are a thousand times stronger than you! The emirs worship my father—”
“Oh, is that why they refused to obey his orders in front of Jaffa? Is that why Malik Rik could challenge your whole army, and not one man was willing to cross swords with him? I was led to believe your father was very angry about that.” Ibelin’s eyes cut to the Sultan, who was looking distinctly annoyed.
“Lies!” his son replied hotly. “Any one of us could kill Malik Rik with one hand tied behind his back—”
“Enough,” his father silenced him sharply, and answered himself. “Malik Rik’s own brother is in revolt against him. His former ally, Malik Phil, is in league with his enemies and preparing to invade his lands. If he survives his current illness—may Allah grant that he does—he must return across the sea, and with him will go all the others who came from the West.”
“Indeed,” Ibelin agreed. “And I will be glad to see them go.” Their eyes locked. Ibelin continued. “In our Holy Book it is written: there is a time for war and a time for peace. A time to sow and a time to reap. It is time for the men of war to return home and for us to sow our fallow fields.”
“Let Malik Rik depart with his invaders.” The Sultan dismissed them with a wave of his hand, and then looked more intently than ever at Ibelin. “After they have left, if you acknowledge that you have been worshiping a prophet, not a God, and heed the word of Mohammed, may God’s blessings be upon him, then I will give you all of Palestine as your iqta.”
“There are many men who have fought loyally with you for decades, Excellency, who would rightly object to such a generous gift to a new convert.” Ibelin glanced significantly at al-Adil.
“Let me and God deal with them, for His joy in saving your soul would far outweigh any perceived injustice visited upon others.”
“I am too insignificant to presume to know what will bring joy to the heart of God, but I trust that He will inspire me to do that which pleases Him, and that is to bring peace to His homeland. Will you not listen to King Richard’s terms?”
Salah ad-Din held his eyes, and he saw that Ibn Barzan was not in the least tempted by his offer. He nodded curtly.
“King Richard is willing to recognize your control of the highlands, including Jerusalem, in exchange for your recognition of Frankish suzerainty over the coast and coastal plain from Ascalon to Latakia. He proposes an exchange of prisoners, to include all captives taken from the Kingdom of Jerusalem after Hattin and still in slavery. Last but not least, he demands the return of the Cross captured at Hattin that we revere, but which is worthless to you.”
Al-Afdal looked flabbergasted, al-Adil bemused, and Salah ad-Din stony. “I will consult with my emirs and other advisors,” he told Ibn Barzan dryly. “Is there anything you would like while you are waiting? Food, or a bath, perhaps a woman? I have many very delectable slave girls, some of whom are blond and Christian.”
Ibelin concluded that the Sultan was furious with him and refused to react to the provocation. “I’m not in the mood, but if you have any wine from Ibelin I would enjoy that.”
The Sultan smiled coldly and flung at him ascerbically, “You’ll have to grow it yourself!” Then, ordering Imad ad-Din to see what refreshments he could find, he departed in obvious ill temper.
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