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Authors: Jack Hight

Holy War (3 page)

BOOK: Holy War
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As he entered, he stepped past a man who clutched an arm that was missing a hand. Beside him a man lay on his side trying to hold in his guts, which protruded from a ragged gash in his stomach. His eyes were glazed and he was mumbling something under his breath.

‘You fought well,’ Yusuf told the men. ‘Allah will reward you.’

The man with the missing hand nodded. The other man showed no sign of having heard. Yusuf continued into the room, past dozens of men who had suffered terrible burns. Some clutched their bloody, blistered flesh and moaned in pain. Others had skin that was black and charred. They made no sound at all. Yusuf said what words of comfort he could. He paused when he came to a man whose face was one raw, bleeding wound. Ibn Jumay knelt beside him. The doctor noticed Yusuf’s pained expression.

‘His face is not the worst of it,’ Ibn Jumay said. ‘His lungs have been burned. There is no hope for him. I have given him extract of poppy for the pain.’

The man moved, and his eyes blinked open. The fire had blinded him, and he stared straight ahead without seeing. He whispered something in a rasping voice. Yusuf knelt beside him. He had to bring his ear close to the man’s mouth to hear. ‘Malik.’

‘Yes, soldier.’

‘Remember – when –’ Each word was a gasp that caused the man’s face to contort in pain. ‘– we – fought.’ Yusuf frowned. He looked again at the man’s face, but his features had been burned away. ‘Tell Bashir.’

‘Nazam.’ The man nodded. Yusuf took his hand. ‘I remember, friend.’

‘Wife.’ Nazam took a long, shuddering breath. ‘My wife!’

‘She will be provided for.’

Nazam sank back, a smile on his ruined lips. Ibn Jumay gave him another spoonful of poppy extract, and Nazam’s eyes closed. After a moment, his rasping breathing stopped.


Yusuf turned to see Ubadah and Nasir ad-Din enter the screened-off portion of the tent. His nephew’s mail was red with blood and his hair was singed. At twenty-four, lean and strong, Ubadah looked more like his father, John, than ever. Nasir ad-Din’s tunic was also red, but it looked to be from spilled wine, not blood. Yusuf’s jaw set. He pointed to Nasir ad-Din’s tunic. ‘You dare come before me in this state? I had hoped you would learn discipline in Homs, but I can see my hopes were ill founded. Were it not for the love I bore for your uncle, Shirkuh, I would have your tongue cut out as an example. Instead, I shall have your lands. You are emir of Homs no longer.’

Nasir ad-Din’s cheeks had flushed scarlet. ‘But Malik—’

‘Go, or I will have your tongue after all!’

The young man bowed and backed from the room.

Yusuf turned to Ubadah. ‘And you! Where have you been? Your place is here. These men fought for you. They are dying for you.’

Ubadah’s nose wrinkled in disgust as he took in the wounded men. ‘What of it? They are mamluks, bought and raised as slaves. It is their duty to die.’

Yusuf slapped him. ‘I was like you once, Nephew,’ he said, his voice as sharp as a sword’s edge. ‘When I was given my first command, I thought that I could force the men to obey me with threats and beatings. I was lucky they did not wring my neck. My uncle Shirkuh taught me what I now tell you: each time you go into battle, you put your life into your men’s hands.
Men who despise you will let you die; men who respect you, love you even, will give up their lives to protect you. But you cannot win your men’s respect by keeping apart from them. You must share their joys, and their pains, too.’

‘Yes, Uncle,’ Ubadah murmured as he stared at his feet. He cleared his throat. ‘I came to tell you that there are messengers from the Caliph. They have been shown to your tent.’

‘You stay here. Talk to the men. Comfort them as you are able. I will speak with the Caliph’s emissaries.’

Outside, the rain was now coming down in sheets. Yusuf was cold and splattered with mud by the time he reached his tent. He stepped inside to find three bearded men in robes of black silk enjoying food and drink with Qaraqush and Yusuf’s secretary, the grey-haired scholar Imad ad-Din. Yusuf walked to his camp-stool. He sat and gestured for the messengers to approach. ‘The servants of Caliph Al-Nasir are always welcome in my tent. What message do you bring?’

The shortest of the messengers stepped forward and gave a small bow. ‘The Caliph prays for your success and the prosperity of your kingdom. And he sends this . . .’ The man produced a scroll from his robes.

Yusuf took it and broke the seal. It was all he could do to keep his face impassive as he scanned the text. This was not the diploma of investiture for which he had hoped.
I confirm you as king of Syria and Aleppo
, the caliph wrote,
but I cannot turn my back on my loyal servant Izz ad-Din. It pains me to see conflict between two great men of the faith. I urge you to make peace and to turn your attentions to the Franks in the west.
He stopped reading. The rest was compliments and false piety: empty words.

Yusuf set the scroll aside. The three messengers were shifting nervously. No doubt they knew the contents of the message and feared his wrath. Yusuf smiled at them. The caliph had failed him this time, but Yusuf might have need of him again. Sweet words would help his cause more than threats and curses. ‘My thanks for bringing this message,’ Yusuf told them.
‘My servants will show you to a tent while I prepare my response.’

When they had gone, Yusuf rose and tossed the letter on the brazier. It smoked for a moment and burst into flames. ‘The blind fool!’ he growled. ‘He takes my gifts and spits in my face. He tells me to make peace with Izz ad-Din.’

‘Perhaps you should,’ Imad ad-Din ventured. ‘Mosul—’

‘Must be mine if I am to take Jerusalem. I cannot turn west while Izz ad-Din sits on my borders, waiting to pounce.’

‘The walls of Mosul are thick and its defenders many,’ Qaraqush cautioned. ‘Today’s defeat was just a taste of what lies in store, Malik. You will lose thousands if you attempt to take the city by storm.’

‘And I will gain as many men when the city falls.’

‘Men who were once your enemies; men you cannot trust.’

‘We could starve them into submission,’ Imad ad-Din suggested.

‘We are not prepared for a long siege,’ Qaraqush countered. ‘Who will feed us while we wait for them to starve? Mosul is a prize for another day, Malik. First isolate Izz ad-Din. Take his lands in the west. Aleppo is the prize you should seek now.’

Yusuf frowned as he gazed at the smouldering coals in the brazier. It pained him to retreat, but Qaraqush was right. ‘Izz ad-Din can keep Mosul. We will take everything else from him. Once Aleppo is ours, he will surrender, or he will die.’

hapter 2

December 1182: Jerusalem

A snowflake stung the tip of John’s nose before melting. He looked up at the narrow strip of slate-grey sky that was visible between the buildings crowding the street on either side and saw more flakes drifting down. John normally preferred a coat of mail to his priest’s vestments, but for once he was grateful for the warmth of his tentlike chasuble. It was made of thick white silk and was heavily embroidered with silver to reflect his new station. After saving the king’s life at the battle of Montgisard, he had been appointed Archdeacon of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, second only to the patriarch in Jerusalem.

John glanced to the king. Despite his silk robes and heavy cloak lined with ermine, Baldwin was shivering, making the crown of the Kingdom of Jerusalem dance atop his head. Baldwin spent most of his days huddled before the fire in his chambers, but he had insisted on walking in the Christmas procession. It had been five years since Montgisard, and memories of his victory were fading, replaced by rumours of his failing health. The king had suffered from leprosy since he was a child. He had lost his eyebrows and the skin on his brow had thickened, making him look much older than his twenty-one years. The lesions on his face were only partly covered by his blond beard. He wanted to show the barons that he was strong and capable, but the long trip across the city from the palace to the Templum Domini and then back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre had taken its toll. Baldwin’s legs were shaking with fatigue. It would not do to have him fall. John stepped forward and took the king’s arm.

‘I do not need your help,’ Baldwin snapped.

‘Of course, Your Grace. It is only that the way is long, and I have grown faint. I would be grateful for your support.’

Baldwin gave John a nod of thanks and allowed himself to be supported.

His sister Sibylla smirked. ‘Thank the Lord my
brother is here to lend you his arm, priest. We would not want you to fall on your face before our beloved people.’ A year Baldwin’s senior, Sibylla was everything he was not. Her long auburn hair framed a fine-boned face with large blue eyes and skin that glowed with health. She walked with her head held high and her shoulders thrown back. And where her brother was reflective and patient, Sibylla was all fiery passion. Two years ago, on the eve of her betrothal to Balian of Ibelin, she had been found in bed with the French crusader Guy of Lusignan. Baldwin had been furious, but when a week later she was found to be with child, there was nothing to be done but for Guy and Sibylla to marry. John suspected that the king’s mother Agnes was behind the whole affair. She was the one with the key to Sibylla’s chastity belt, and Guy was one of her creatures.

Agnes was walking beside Sibylla’s son from her first marriage. With his uncle rendered impotent by leprosy, the younger Baldwin would inherit the throne. The sickly child rode in a shaded chair carried by four servants. He was pale as milk and painfully thin. Sibylla had not wanted him to take part in the procession, but Agnes had insisted. The entire populace of Jerusalem would turn out for the Christmas Mass, and Agnes thought it important that they see their future king.

The towering dome of the church was just ahead. The Templars carrying the True Cross led the procession into the church courtyard, and then stepped aside. Patriarch Heraclius paused just inside the Gate of the Crucifixion, which led into the church. ‘What now?’ Baldwin grumbled. His lips had taken on a bluish tint.

Heraclius raised his arms and began to pray in his high, piercing voice. John hated the sound of it. He had painful memories of Heraclius purring in his ear while the priest tortured John after he had been captured fighting for the Saracens at Butaiah. John might now serve as Heraclius’s deputy, but the two men still hated one another.

‘Will he ever stop talking?’ William muttered as he stamped his feet. The Archbishop of Tyre’s dislike for Heraclius was no secret. ‘It is damnably cold, and his Latin is so poor no one can understand him anyway. Did he just call the faithful the erect of God?’

The constable Amalric snorted in amusement and was joined by his brother, Sibylla’s husband Guy. Guy was clean-shaven, with long blond hair and emerald-green eyes. He would have been handsome were it not for his snub nose, an unfortunate feature that he shared with his brother. Neither man knew any Latin, but they both had a crude sense of humour.

‘And I am delighted to learn that Jerusalem is the bookmark of cities,’ William continued. ‘How can anyone confuse
? What does that make Acre, I wonder? The inkpot? You should never have made him patriarch, Your Grace.’

‘Don’t you start,’ Baldwin snapped. ‘I had to do something to heal the rift in my court. I cannot defend my kingdom against the Saracens while my own subjects are at one another’s throats.’

After his great victory at Montgisard, Baldwin had sought to reconcile the two factions that split his court: on the one side his mother, Agnes, with her brother, Joscelin, Guy and Amalric of Lusignan and Reynald of Chatillon, lord of Oultrejourdain; and on the other the old families represented by Raymond of Tripoli, Reginald of Sidon, the Balians and William. When old Humphrey of Toron died in battle, the king had appointed Amalric constable to replace him. Baldwin had betrothed his half-sister Isabella to young Humphrey of Toron, heir of one of the old families but also Reynald’s stepson. And after the patriarch died, he had allowed his mother to choose his successor. Agnes had surprised no one by selecting her pet, Heraclius. Baldwin had been pleased. His mother was happy, and her choice meant that he could keep William as chancellor.

Heraclius finally finished his prayer, and the procession continued into the church. They made a tour around the sepulchre
– a stone structure topped with a cupola on which stood a larger-than-life silver statue of Christ – and were then led through the colonnade that separated the sanctuary from the rest of the church. John went to the altar to help Heraclius perform the Mass, while Baldwin took a grateful seat on his throne and the canons went to their benches. The rest of the procession remained just outside the sanctuary. The populace flooded through the doors to join them. Men-at-arms held them back from the lords and the king’s family, forcing them to the back of the church.

John held the large prayer book while Heraclius read. But even as John assisted with the service, his focus was on the king. Baldwin sat rigidly straight on his throne, in a pose intended to convey authority. And perhaps it did so to the people outside the sanctuary. John was closer, though, and he could see the veins standing out in the king’s neck and the crown trembling on his brow. When the service ended, he went to the throne, but Baldwin waved him away and stood. John stayed close as the king strode from the sanctuary and through the crowd, allowing the people to touch him. The touch of the king was said to cure disease, but John did not understand how the people could believe that when Baldwin could not even cure himself. Outside, horses were waiting. John helped the king into the saddle and they trotted to the palace, the new-fallen snow swallowing up the sound of the horses’ hooves. John helped Baldwin from the saddle and followed him inside. The moment he passed through the door, the strength that had seemed to animate Baldwin vanished. His legs failed, and John had to catch
him to keep him from falling.

BOOK: Holy War
10.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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