Godwin’s hammer clanged down and the blade of the sword he was working rang. There was rhythm to his blows, and the sword seemed to sing in counterpoint. Catching his father’s enthusiasm, John watched wide-eyed until they were both disturbed by men bursting into the forge from behind them.
“Godwin!” a man roared, followed by a flood of words in an incomprehensible tongue that was both staccato and melodic. Godwin was startled from his concentration and turned to look over his shoulder at the intruders.
The new arrivals surged past Balian and John, and John instinctively shrank back toward his father. These were big, powerful men in leather armor, and most of them had axes at their hips as big as ox heads. More to the point, they looked as if they’d just come out of a fight with a collection of cuts, bruises, swelling eyes, and bloody chins. A couple of them were nursing real wounds under oozing bandages as well.
Godwin saw Balian and John surrounded by the tattered, stinking, fighting men, and his eyes widened. “Haakon Magnussen! Don’t you know whom you just shoved aside?” he called out in French. “That’s my lord of Ibelin!”
The man directly beside Balian stopped short, turned, and looked straight at Balian. “Well,” he grunted in passable French, “you’re the first man out here that I don’t have to look down on.” He might have been referring to Balian’s height, which put them eye to eye, but Balian had the feeling that he meant it figuratively instead.
“My lord, Haakon Magnussen commands the Norse snecka out in the harbor.”
“The one that ran the blockade five days ago?” Ibelin asked back.
Salah ad-Din had resumed the full-scale siege of Tyre on November 26, only four days after Balian and the other refugees from Jerusalem arrived, but it had not been until December 10 that the Egyptian fleet had arrived offshore and instituted a sea blockade as well. Tyre, which until then had been able to receive supplies, reinforcements, and news, was now completely cut off from the rest of the world by land and by sea. Only one ship had slipped past the Egyptian war galleys: a Norse snecka, which had somehow evaded the Saracen ships in the dead of night.
“The same—and we would have run the blockade again last night in the opposite direction if that son-of-a-Pisan-whore Montferrat hadn’t stopped us! The Queen of Jerusalem promised us one hundred gold bezants to get her out of this piss-pot and land her safely at Tripoli, but Montferrat somehow got word of her intentions. His men ambushed us on the quay before we could even go aboard, and two of my men were killed in the ensuing struggle. May his putrid soul rot in hell! I came here to fight Saracens, not Pisan sailors and French archers!”
“What happened to the Queen of Jerusalem?” Ibelin asked, cutting through the grumbled curses of the Norsemen’s men, who were echoing their commander’s sentiments.
“Montferrat’s men put a sack over her head—literally—and carried her off kicking and screaming. Well, they silenced her fast enough. Stuck something in her mouth, I presume, or just knocked her out. I was too busy keeping myself from getting gutted by those Pisan bastards to notice much more than that she suddenly went silent.”
Balian didn’t like the sound of that, although part of him couldn’t help noting that Sibylla’s death would solve a lot of problems. “Thank you for the intelligence,” he told the Norseman with a nod of his head. Then, turning to Godwin he noted, “These customers have more urgent need of your services than I, it seems, but when you have time, let me know. My hauberk is in need of repair.”
“Of course, my lord!” Godwin readily agreed, and turned to take the ax Magnussen was handing him.
Balian turned to leave, but his son was gazing at the Norsemen with a wonder that was not to Balian’s liking. These men might all wear crosses, but to Balian’s mind they were little better than Vikings. “Come along, John!” he ordered sharply, and firmly pulled the boy away from their evil influence.
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