Sunday, November 22, 2015

Once More onto the Breach...: An Excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"

Kenneth Branagh in the film of Shakespear's "King Henry V"
 "Once more onto the breach, dear Friends"
On September 29 at about 5:15 in the afternoon, the attackers set fire to the timbers holding up the tunnel that ran for roughly thirty meters under Jerusalem’s northern wall between St. Stephen’s Gate and the Postern of Mary Magdalene. The excited shouts of the Saracens as they poured out of the far end of the tunnel gave the Christians a fifteen–second warning, and some of the men manning that sector of the wall managed to get away. Many more were sucked down by the collapsing masonry and were crushed or suffocated in the rubble as the wall collapsed.

Ibelin had been on the Gate of Jehoshaphat at the time. He heard the sound of rolling thunder coming out of the earth, then the crashing of stones and the screams of men, and he started running in the direction of the sound, oblivious to the arrows aimed at him. Even before he reached the breach, he was screaming orders for archers to pour fire into the gap. He shouted down into the streets for men to rush into the breach to stop the inevitable Saracen assault.

Sir Roger, who had been on St. Stephen’s Gate, converged on the breach from the opposite direction, shouting identical orders. The dust had not yet settled before Sir Mathewos arrived with a troop of crossbowmen who had been held in reserve for this event, while from St. Mary Magdalene Sir Constantine brought the last of his Greek engineers.

The Saracens, of course, had prepared an assault troop just behind the head of the tunnel. As the wall collapsed, shouts of “Allahu Akbar!” went up from across the Saracen camp—and thousands of jubilant Saracen troops, whether Turks, Kurds, Egyptians, or Nubians, pumped their swords or bows over their heads in triumph.

The troops selected for the honor of being the first to enter Jerusalem rushed forward with élan and elation. This was their moment of greatest glory yet! Hattin had been a victory, to be sure: they had humiliated the Non-Believers and crushed them once and for all. But this—this was a moment that would live in history forever. They would repay the outrage of the Christian massacre of their brothers eighty-eight years ago and make them drown in their own blood. They would liberate the Dome of the Rock from the filth of the Franks and raise it again to the third greatest shrine of the True Faith.

They surged up over the rubble, which was still encased in clouds of dust and billowing smoke from the burning timbers of the tunnel underneath. Because the stones had been dislodged but not settled, they foundered and scrambled as the blocks shifted under their weight. They fell as the broken masonry gave way under their feet, and the leading men started small landslides that knocked down the men behind them. And all the while, death rained on them, loosed by Christian archers on either side of the breach.

Just as they crested the highest part of the rubble and were ready to run down into the city, they were hit head-on by a barrage of crossbow bolts and flaming arrows. The defenders were at such close range that when the bolts struck the Saracens they went clear through their first victim, and some killed the man behind as well. Behind the crossbowmen came slingers releasing pots full of Greek fire. Within a quarter-hour, the breach in the wall was a burning graveyard.

But Salah ad-Din did not have a shortage of fanatical followers ready to take the place of the failed first assault team. The second wave rushed forward, calling on Allah as they charged. These had an easier time mounting the north-facing slope of the debris, but met the same barrage of crossbowmen and Greek fire at the crest. So did the third and fourth assault wave. By then the sun was setting and the muezzins called the Faithful to prayer.

Ibelin stood on the corner tower, watching the survivors of the last assault drag as many of their dead comrades as possible out of the flames and back down the slope of rubble. Then he turned and strained his eyes in the direction of the Sultan’s tent. He thought he saw a flicker of motion: the tent flap opening or closing. Salah ad-Din had no doubt been watching just as he had. Hopefully he had had enough for today.

People were shouting all around him, trying to get Christian wounded to the Hospital and Christian dead to the improvised catacombs. Men had collapsed against the inside of the ramparts and were sobbing from exhaustion, terror, relief—who knew. Somewhere a woman was keening as she discovered her husband, son or lover among the dead. And then the bells of the Holy Sepulcher began to clang. Balian lifted his head and looked across the rubble, through the smoke and dust, toward the dome of the great church, and wondered how many more times it would be allowed to raise its deep, comforting voice.

An excerpt from:


Sunday, November 15, 2015

What Lepers Can Do: An Excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"

“They might just kill us all—as we’re no use as slaves. When the enemy comes, we must take refuge in the city,” a middle-aged leper, whose fingerless hands were wrapped in bandages, declared forcefully.

“What makes you think the citizens of Jerusalem will let us inside?” a little man without ears or nose asked back bitterly. He had been expelled from his native Cologne and had walked all the way to Jerusalem in hope of a cure. Instead, he found himself segregated with his fellow lepers, albeit in better circumstances than in the Holy Roman Empire.

“We can appeal to the Grand Hospitaller,” a woman with deforming ulcers on her face and neck answered. The Order of St. Lazarus was an offshoot of the Knights of St. John.

It was at this point that Sir Daniel straightened and raised his voice. “No—Ibelin is in command now, and I will go to him.”

The congress of lepers fell restlessly silent as they turned to look at the speaker. Sir Daniel was one of them—and he wasn’t. He had never really fit in, and then he had gone off to serve the King. When he returned, he had kept himself apart, as if he thought he was better than the rest of them. Yet the leprosy had rendered his left arm useless; it was ulcerous and the fingers were rotting away. Because he could no longer hold a shield, he had not been allowed to go with the knights that mustered with King Guy, despite his protests and pleading.

Now he stepped out of the side aisle to stand directly in front of the altar (the lepers were meeting in the church) and reminded them: “Listen to me. I once served the Baron of Ibelin. If I go to him, he will grant what we request.”

Several in the audience, who didn’t like Daniel very well and thought him arrogant, grumbled to themselves that he shouldn’t be so sure about what the Baron of Ibelin would or would not do. The majority, like him or not, nodded and agreed that what he said made sense.

“But first we must decide what it is we want,” Daniel’s voice rang out, amplified by the acoustics of the church. His audience grew still, surprised and captivated by something in his tone.

“Do we want to cower behind the walls of Jerusalem like piteous rubbish, waiting for our fate?” He paused, but no one answered him; most of his audience, in their rags and rotting limbs, didn’t see what choice they had.

“Or do we want to follow in the footsteps of the late King Baldwin?” Again he paused, but now an intangible excitement had gripped them. The lepers toward the back or behind taller people squirmed and strained to get a better view of Sir Daniel.

Sir Daniel was still a surprisingly impressive figure. His face was not yet marked by the disease, and he stood tall and straight, a habit from his years in the King’s service. His rotting arm was wrapped in bandages and hidden from view in his cloak.

“King Baldwin never stopped fighting for his Kingdom, for this city, for Christ. Even when he was too weak to stand, when he could not use his hands, when his sight was dim. To the very end, he fought. Three times, the Leper King threw back Salah ad-Din’s armies! It took a healthy man to lead the Army of Jerusalem to defeat!” he reminded them, and suddenly they were nodding and congratulating themselves.

“I say if he could fight in his condition, then so can all of us!”

“He had others to do his fighting,” one of Sir Daniel’s detractors grumbled. “All he had to do was command.”

“Well, if you want to just whine and act like an infant, then do so!” Sir Daniel sneered. “But I know that I can be useful—and so can you, Tom, and you, too, Molly!” Daniel began addressing them by name. “In fact,” Daniel continued, “there are things we can do better than the healthy! With less feeling in our limbs, we can handle hot cauldrons with boiling oil and water, or even stamp out fires with our senseless feet. And who knows better than we how to prepare strips of cotton or how to wind them firmly? Why, then, who better than we to wrap arrows with cotton strips and dip them in tar and oil so they can be sent flaming over the ramparts to the enemy?”

His enthusiasm and conviction were contagious. Particularly, the younger and healthier of his colleagues were with him. “Yes, yes!” they started to shout. “We can help!”

“We can tend fires—”

“And put them out!”

“We can remove the dead!”

“We can throw the enemy dead back at them!”

“We can!”

“We can!”

All doubts, voiced and unvoiced, were soon drowned out in the euphoria of newfound purpose, and Sir Daniel was elected “Master” of the Lepers of St. Lazarus at Jerusalem by popular acclaim. 

An excerpt from:


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Listening for the Voice of God: An Excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem
The courtyard of the church was full of people, but they parted for him, a whisper of awe running through the crowd from those who recognized him to those who did not. He passed through the portal into the church itself. This was lit by candles, and the air was heavy with incense. Immediately ahead of him, against the back side of the choir, were the tombs of the Kings of Jerusalem. Balian paused to kneel before Baldwin IV’s tomb.

“You were lucky to go when you did,” he told his former pupil silently.

“But if I’d lived longer, maybe I would have found a way to get rid of Guy,” Baldwin seemed to answer.

“Guy and Ridefort together lost Jerusalem,” Balian told his dead friend.

“Jerusalem?” Baldwin asked back. “Guy and Ridefort lost Hattin. Jerusalem is still Christian.”

“Am I to defend it with just two knights?”

“How many knights did you have at Ascalon?”

“You brought me 376 knights.”

“I issued the arrière-ban. Do not underestimate the power of people imbued with faith.”

Balian looked up at the effigy on the tomb. It was calm and beautiful, unmarked by the ravages of leprosy; it was not a portrait but a symbol. It was the way Baldwin would have liked to be remembered. “What would you have done if you had survived?” Balian asked silently.

“How can you even ask?” Baldwin reproached him. “When did I ever fail to defend my Kingdom? I would do so from the grave if I could. And you are still my knight, Balian. You were always my lance and my sword. Do not fail me now.”

Balian stood and proceeded to the rotunda. Here the crowds were thicker than ever; many people knelt on the flagstone floor, praying fervently. Others were lighting candles before the Grave Chapel, while in the choir several hundred people stood pressed together, following the Mass being read by the canons of the Holy Sepulcher. All twelve canons who had accompanied the True Cross to Hattin had been killed. There could not be more than a dozen left, Balian reckoned. But two of these stood as usual at the entrance to the Grave Chapel, controlling access. They recognized the Baron of Ibelin as he approached, and parted without a word; one even bowed his head.

“I wish to be alone,” Ibelin told them as he passed into the chapel. They did not answer, but took up their position before the entrance again, ensuring no one could follow.

Balian descended the steep stairs to the grave itself. The grave was cool, almost chilly, lit only by candles. Balian went down on his knees and bowed his head. He recited the Lord’s Prayer. Then he sat back on his heels and considered the grave.

“Thy will be done.” It was so easy to say, but he was expected to make decisions and take actions.

Balian did not doubt the divinity of Christ even for an instant—but he knew, too, with what conviction and fervor the Muslims too believed that they were doing God’s will. Did they not shout “God is great” every time they won a victory over the armies of Christ? He had even been told that they shouted “God is great” while executing the unarmed and bound Templar and Hospitaller prisoners after Hattin.

Balian did not believe it was God’s will for helpless men to be gruesomely tortured to death, as had happened in Damascus. He did not believe it was God’s will that the Kingdom of Jerusalem had been squandered on a single battlefield because of the poor decisions of a usurper. He did not believe it was God’s will that Guy was King of Jerusalem at all. And that was his problem. Men made decisions and took actions that were—all too often—not in accordance with His will.

Balian laid himself face down on the cold surface of the grave beside the ledge on which Christ’s mortal remains had lain more than a thousand years before. The space was too narrow for him to stretch out his arms to either side, so he cradled his head on them instead, and tried to empty his brain entirely. He was not here to plead, beg, or even ask for anything. He was here to receive the Will of God. 

An excerpt from:


Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Child in Jerusalem, August 1187: An Excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"

John had escaped the tedium of the classroom, the prattle of his siblings, and the droning of Father Angelus for the kitchens. It wasn’t that he was hungry—but it was in the kitchens that he learned the most about what was really going on. His mother and aunts, his tutors, and even the servants all wanted to “protect” him by not telling him what was happening. They treated him like a baby and kept telling him “everything will be all right,” when obviously it wasn’t!

Nablus, Ibelin, Ramla, and Mirabel had all fallen. Everything he had ever known as home was overrun by the enemy. Salah ad-Din’s forces controlled the countryside all around Jerusalem, and there were no knights left in the city. John understood perfectly that that meant there was no way they could defend themselves. He and his siblings, his mother, his aunts and tutors and servants—they were all trapped within the city, with no hope of relief.

What was more, John knew what happened to women and children when a city was sacked. They were rounded up and sold as slaves. The women would be violated and ravished—like Beth had been—and the children would be made to work, just like the kitchen boys turning the spit before the fire or the boys that scrubbed out the latrines. John shuddered—and couldn’t stop thinking about it.

He tried to picture himself defending his sisters and little brother. He imagined saying, “My father is Balian d’Ibelin, and—” And what? They would laugh at him, because his father could not rescue him. His father could not even buy his freedom, because his father had nothing. With the loss of Ibelin, Ramla, Mirabel, and Nablus, they had lost all their land and income. Of course his mother and Master Shoreham had managed to bring most of their movable treasure here, but when Jerusalem fell that would all be seized as plunder by the Saracens.

“Master John!” It was the stern voice of Father Michael. John jumped and then looked over his shoulder with an expression of guilt mixed with rebelliousness on his face. “You’re supposed to be at your lessons, young man!” Father Michael admonished.

“What’s the point of learning Greek when the only language I’m going to need in the future is Arabic?” John flung furiously at Father Michael, his pent-up terror erupting as defiance.

Father Michael was taken aback for a second, but then reproached himself. John wasn’t a fool, and an eight-year-old could reason. The tutor went down on his heels to be at John’s eye level and looked him squarely in the face. “It is your Greek blood that might just save you. Your mother’s cousin is Emperor of the Greeks.” He was stretching the point somewhat—the Emperor Isaac II Angelus was only distantly related to Maria Zoë—but for John’s sake he was willing to bend the truth a little. He continued, “And he has made a truce with Salah ad-Din.”

John just stared at him, his lips a grim, defiant line.

Father Michael laid a hand on his shoulder and spoke in a gentler voice. “John, what good does it do to get in people’s way here?” They were very much underfoot at the moment, for dinner was over and the serving boys were trying to clean up and put things away. Several women were soaking rags in warm, sudsy water to wipe down the tables, while other servants were preparing to sweep out the hall. The cooks were busy sorting out the leftovers into things for reuse (such as the wine), alms for the poor, and bones for the dogs. Just outside the kitchen door, the usual crowd of beggars was waiting in the street for alms. They seemed louder than usual, even more aggressive.

Someone was shouting, “Ibelin! Ibelin!”—as if that would get them more food or fed faster, Father Michael noted with irritation.

Then the noise spilled from the street into the kitchen itself when one of the scullery servants started squawking in a high-pitched voice: “A rider with the banner of Ibelin is approaching St. Stephen’s Gate.”

“A rider?”

“It must be a ruse!”

“There’s nothing but Saracens north of us!”

“It’s the Ibelin banner! Clear as day!”

“How many riders?”

“Just two.”

“That’s madness! If Ibelin were coming to our relief, he’d bring his whole three thousand men."

“I tell you,” the scullion insisted. “They’ve seen it!”

John ducked down and darted for the door while the others were distracted. He dodged past the cook and the excited scullion and was outside before Michael could stop him.

In the street the crowd was more agitated than the scullion. Everyone was talking at once. “I told you he’d come!” someone kept repeating. Other people were asking more skeptically how he could have gotten through the enemy alone, and while holding his banner upright on a lance. Others were sure it was a trick. “If we open the gates to this rider, they’ll flood in!”

“How? He’s alone, with just one squire.”

A rider forced his way through the crowd, calling for them to make way. “I have a message for the Dowager Queen!” the man kept shouting. But they blocked his way, surrounding his horse and demanding his news.

“The Baron of Ibelin is approaching! Let me in!”

The crowd erupted into even more agitated discussion, but they let the rider continue to the main entrance, where he jumped down and disappeared inside. John was too far away to follow. Instead, he was trapped with the rest of the crowd, and from farther up the street the shouting had grown much louder. More: the shouting had turned to cheering. They were still shouting “Ibelin!” but it had become a chant. “Ib-lin! Ib-lin! Ib-lin!”

More people poured out of the houses and shops lining the street and crowded the balconies and the rooftops, trying to see what was going on. The cheers were coming nearer, growing louder. Everyone seemed to be shouting and waving, and John couldn’t see for all the people ahead of him. He pushed and squeezed, stamping on people’s feet and clawing his way forward, until he fought his way clear to the front. He looked up the street and could just make out two mounted men, the second of whom held upright a lance with the banner of Ibelin, but John had eyes only for the lead rider: it was his father!

John understood at once. His father had come to rescue them!

John wanted to run to him, but the crowds stood in his way. He shouted his father’s name and jumped up and down, but he was just one small child in a city awash with refugees and desperate residents. They all stood between him and his father: beggars and shopkeepers, refugees and priests, rich merchants and nuns who didn’t normally rub shoulders with the poor.

His father, meanwhile, was so completely surrounded by people that he was unable to advance another step. Scores of hands held his bridle so that the faithful Centurion fretted and tried to shake them off, while people clung to his father’s stirrups and Centurion’s trapper as well.

John could not hear what they were saying, but he understood their gestures. They did not understand that his father had come only to rescue his wife and children. They saw in the lord of Ibelin a nobleman, an experienced battle commander, the only lord to have fought his way out of the encirclement of Hattin with honor. They saw him as the savior of Jerusalem itself.

That made John angry and frightened—because if his father stayed to defend Jerusalem, then he, his mother, his sisters, and his little brother would not be able to escape. His father had to say “no” to the others! He had to ignore them, and instead sweep John up onto his saddle and ride with him out of the city to safety.

John shouted and jumped up and down, trying to make himself seen and heard, until tears of frustration ran down his face. But it did no good.

An excerpt from:


Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Road to Hattin: An Excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"

The shift in direction, however, meant that the Christian army left the road and started cutting across country. That made walking much more difficult for the infantry, as there were frequent gullies, rocks, and thorns. That was bad enough for men just walking forward; it was much harder for men trying to stay in formation under unrelenting attacks. As a result, the rear guard was slowed down even more, and a gap threatened to open up between the main body of Christian troops and the rear guard. It was a gap the Saracens were bound to exploit—and if they did, the rear guard would be surrounded and cut to pieces.

As that threat loomed larger with each excruciating step forward, Ibelin rode over to consult with Gerard de Ridefort. The latter proposed charging the enemy to drive them back, but Ibelin angrily rejected the plan. It was too obvious that the enemy would simply fall back before the heavy cavalry, and then attack again as soon as the charge was spent. 

“That’s a waste of energy,” Ibelin told the Templar Master bluntly.

“You’re just afraid to charge!” Ridefort retorted hotly.

“Don’t try that crap on me, Ridefort. I’m not a frightened dandy like the King you made! Charging light Turkish cavalry is idiocy—and if you do it, you do it alone.” Ibelin let his eyes sweep the Templars around the Master, hoping to find a man like Jacques de Mailly, willing to challenge their Grand Master and support him. But the men with Ridefort today only dropped their eyes and would not look at him.

“God is on our side!” Ridefort barked belligerently, making his own men sit up straighter in their saddles.

“Really? As he was with you at Cresson?” Ibelin shot back.

“Do you doubt Christ is with us?”
“It is blasphemy to confuse your own will with the will of God.”

“We charge!” Ridefort spun his horse on its haunches and spurred it forward, ordering the Templar standard-bearer to fall in beside him.

Ibelin rode back to his own knights and announced grimly, “The Templars insist on charging.”

“That’s madness!” Sir Bartholomew protested, and Balian noted how haggard the old man looked. His eyes were sunken in his skull, all but lost in shadow in the depths of his helmet. He shouldn’t be here, Balian registered. He should be enjoying his old age in peace on his manor, not facing certain death. Then again, he had only daughters, and the feudal duty fell next to his eldest grandson, a boy just thirteen years old. So on second thought, the old man was probably prepared to die to save that boy and his younger brothers.

Out loud, Ibelin retorted curtly, “This whole march is madness!” and added before anyone else could protest: “We hold formation, and take advantage of the relief the Templars will temporarily give us to jog forward as far and as fast as we can.”

Then he reached down, unfastened his goatskin, and took several gulps of water before demonstratively pulling Rufus’ head around to offer the water to the chestnut palfrey. Rufus gratefully closed his lips around the spout of the goatskin, and Balian upended it so that the water flowed into his horse’s mouth until the skin was about half empty. Then he took it away, closed it, and tied it again to his saddle. Around him, his knights followed his example of sharing their water with their horses, while the infantry drank deeply. While they drank, the Templars burst through their infantry protection screaming “Vive Dieu St. Amour!”—head-on into the next Saracen attack.

The Saracens just wheeled their horses around and galloped away like the wind. Their fleeter horses, with lighter gear and riders, easily outdistanced the Templars. The latter, armed only with lances and swords, could not hope to inflict the slightest damage and soon drew up, turned, and began to trot back to Ibelin’s division, which was jogging as fast as the tired limbs and dehydrated bodies of the infantry would let them. Only Ibelin remained immobile, his horse facing backwards, his eyes squinting against the sun as he awaited the next attack. It came even before the Templars had rejoined the rest of the rear guard. Ibelin shouted a warning, and Ridefort wheeled his knights around and charged again.

This repeated itself four or five times, until the Templar horses were swaying from exhaustion, the sweat dripping from their bellies, their heads hanging in utter dejection. Only then did Ridefort recognize—but not acknowledge—that Ibelin had been right. Furiously, he ordered Ibelin to send one of his knights to the King to demand that the main army wait for the rear guard.

“No,” Ibelin answered.

“They must wait for us! If they don’t, we’ll be cut off and slaughtered! If we’re slaughtered, the army doesn’t stand a chance. A third of our forces are right here!”

“I agree, but you’re the one who brought us here, so you’re going to be the one to tell your puppet King that you were wrong! You tell him to stop before he reaches water! You tell him we can’t make Tiberias tonight! You tell him the entire Christian army is trapped in the middle of a wasteland with no water and completely surrounded by the enemy. You tell him!”

They stared at one another, and for the first time something like doubt crossed Ridefort’s eyes, but he blinked it back. “I don’t have a horse that can trot, let alone canter. You must send one of your knights.”

“Oh, I’ll lend you a horse,” Ibelin answered, “but only you! Not one of your sacrificial lambs,” he gestured toward the silent Templars around them. Balian had never been so acutely aware of how young many of these bearded men were. Behind their beards and their tonsures, behind the façade of their white robes, half of them were little more than boys! He noted with poignancy that many of them had faces the color of cooked crabs and peeling skin—clear indications that they were newly come from countries with cool, rainy summers. Why, many of them might have arrived only weeks or days ago, replacements for the men lost at Cresson. They were, he knew, suffering more in this heat than any of the men from Ibelin, Ramla, or Nablus. He could sense that they were frightened, too. They had believed in their cause, their virtue, and their invincibility. And they were starting to ask themselves what had gone wrong.

“Damn you, Ibelin!”

“What for, Ridefort? For pushing your nose in your own shit? You made this King, and you made this catastrophe. Tripoli warned you. I warned you. By God, half the barons of Jerusalem warned you. But you thought yourself cleverer than all of us together. This is your dung heap, and you are going to lie in it! I only pray to God that He will not punish the rest of us for your stupidity, arrogance, and hubris!”

“I’ll kill you, Ibelin!”

“You already have, Ridefort. You’ve killed all of us. Now, do you want my stallion or not?”
Ridefort’s eyes flashed with hatred so intense that he refused. Dragging his own poor, tired mount around, he dug his spurs into its flanks, forcing it to lumber forward in an exhausted, miserable lope.

Ibelin let his eyes sweep across the faces of the remaining, still-stunned Templars and shook his head. Then he rode back to his own men to face the next Saracen onslaught.

An excerpt from:


Friday, October 16, 2015

A Queen under Siege: An Excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"

Smoke soiled the sky, turning the sun orange and drifting over the walls of the citadel to drop cinders and ash upon the thousands of refugees crowding the ward. The breeze also brought shouts, cries, and the raised voices of men quarreling, along with the sound of things being dragged, broken, and smashed. Many children were crying in terror, held by mothers hardly less terrified themselves, while priests chanted in a half-dozen languages, and men murmured and argued and looked anxiously to the thin walls around them.

Maria Zoë, who had been looking out of the interior window of the hall, drew back, closing the shutters. Her household knights, Sir Constantine and Sir William, were discussing urgently the best defensive strategy for the citadel, but there had not yet been an assault, and the fires suggested there would be none today. The Saracens appeared to have taken the bait of plunder over the risky business of attacking the citadel—no matter how weak it was. She had bought them time, but how much?

“Water, food, and latrines,” she said out loud, turning back to face the men in the room.
“How many people are sheltering here? Do we even have a head count?” For this she looked not to her steward, who was conspicuously lurking in the shadows trying to avoid her eye, but to her confessor Father Angelus and the Abbot of St. Sebastian, an energetic and competent man.

“A head count?” Father Angelus answered with a glance toward the abbot. “No, but we estimate eleven thousand.”

“That would be the entire Christian and Jewish population of Nablus,” Maria Zoë responded dismissively.

The churchmen looked at one another and nodded. “Yes, madame. Except for the Muslims, who consciously remained outside, the entire population is here: Christians, Jews, and Samaritans.”

“We can’t possibly feed eleven thousand!” Maria Zoë protested next, after she absorbed the magnitude of her own success at getting the residents of Nablus into the citadel.

“Not for long, no,” Father Angelus admitted.

“For how long?” Maria Zoë wanted to know.

“The castle was stocked to feed fifty fighting men and twenty others for a year,” Father Angelus answered. “That means we can feed eleven thousand for …” he pursed his lips as he did the math in his head, “three to four days at the most—on short rations.”

“Is that long enough?”

“That depends on what has happened to the Christian army,” Sir Walter replied, coming up beside her with the other knights in his wake. “If the Saracens are here because they have already defeated the forces under King Baldwin, we cannot expect relief at all.”

Maria Zoë had been far too focused on the immediate threat to think about that.

“How do we find out what has happened to King Baldwin?” she asked, carefully avoiding the question about her husband, brother-in-law, and son-in-law.

Silence answered her question, and as she looked from man to man, they dropped their eyes. “I see,” she answered her own question. “Either someone comes to our relief—or they don’t.”

An excerpt from:


Friday, October 9, 2015

A Convenient Truce: An Excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"

When the Christians were safely out of hearing, al-Afdal protested hotly, “Ibn Barzan insulted you.”


“By referring to the murder of Shawar!”

“Never be offended by reference to your deeds,” the Sultan advised his son. “To take offense is to suggest regret. I do not regret killing Shawar. He had lost his utility to us, and his murder paved the way for the reunification of Islam. Do you mean to suggest it is not a good thing that the heretical Fatimid caliphate has been destroyed?”

“Of course not!” al-Afdal protested. “But the Christian meant it as an insult.”

“That is his problem.” The Sultan dismissed the matter, adding, “I liked him.” 

Farrukh-Shah protested with a look of distaste, “Ibn Barzan lacks subtlety.”

“Subtlety? Perhaps, but diplomacy does not consist of deceit, but rather in the art of finding common ground. In this case it is in both our interests to stop fighting for a bit. A truce is not a peace—and ibn Barzan knows that as well as I do. Ibn Barzan is an honest man, and precisely because he did not try to flatter me or pretend to be my friend, I trust him.”

“You think, then, that the Christians are united behind this boy king?” al-Adil asked skeptically.

“I think they are—because he is the lowest common denominator. It would seem that none of the other barons are man enough to put the boy aside.” It was obvious to his brother, son, and nephew that Salah ad-Din was making a disparaging comparison between his own willingness to set aside Nur ad-Din’s rightful heir and the reluctance of the Christians to depose Baldwin V. “I thought at first that Ramla was such a man—that he would take revenge on Guy de Lusignan for the dishonor of stealing his bride—but you saw ibn Barzan’s reaction. Ramla may hate Lusignan, but he does not have sufficient support among his peers to actually hold on to the throne if he were to set aside this boy and his stepfather Lusignan.”

“Who is there to oppose him?” Farrukh-Shah asked. “Tripoli and Antioch are his friends.”

“Yes,” Salah ad-Din admitted, “but Oultrejourdain is his rival. And then there are the Templars. I’ve heard they now back Guy de Lusignan. If so, that changes the balance of power in Jerusalem. Don’t forget these Christian fanatics have access to enormous resources in the West, and they can deploy as many knights as the entire Kingdom. It is significant that the Hospitaller Master was sent to make peace with us, but the Templar Master was not in the party.”

“You would have been even less willing to receive him!” Farrukh-Shah pointed out.

Salah ad-Din laughed. “Of course—and it would have given me greater pleasure to refuse him. But the fact that he was not sent says a great deal. In the past, both Masters were sent on embassies.”

“I have heard rumors that the new Grand Master hates Tripoli,” Farrukh-Shah insisted.

“Good. Then your spies tell you the same thing that my spies tell me,” Salah ad-Din told his nephew pointedly.

“So this is where the Kingdom starts to crack?” Al-Adil suggested uncertainly.

“Maybe, but ibn Barzan is right: it has not cracked yet. Furthermore, our harvests have been poorer than theirs. We have bread riots; they do not. We have Mosul to contend with; they have only supporters in their rear. We have little to gain by attacking now, and waiting is likely to be more to our advantage than theirs.”

“So you will give them a truce?”

“I think four years should be about right.”

The others nodded in agreement. It would not be such a bad thing, after all, to have time to see to their own affairs. 

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