Baldwin invited Maria to sit beside him. “I’ve missed your letters, Tante Maria. Your Christmas note was so formal. It sounded dictated.”
“Because I didn’t know how many other people would read it.”
Baldwin sighed. “I suppose you are right. Are you happy in Nablus?”
“You don’t miss being here at the center of everything?”
“I needed time for myself and for Isabella.”
“It would have been difficult being here and watching Tripoli change so much.”
Baldwin looked surprised. “What do you mean? I thought he was doing a good job. He’s been very good about including me in his decisions and explaining things to me.” He sounded defensive.
“Oh, I’m not saying he doesn’t have the best interests of the kingdom at heart. He is an intelligent and sober man. A good administrator. It’s just…” she looked away.
“What, Tante Marie?”
“As long as your father was alive, he maintained close ties with Constantinople. I was only the outward symbol of something more profound.”
“But we’re still friends with Constantinople,” Baldwin protested.
“Really? Maybe I was misinformed then.”
“About turning down an Imperial bridegroom for Sibylla.”
“Oh. Yes, that’s true, but only so we could broaden our network of friends. Tripoli felt we shouldn’t be too dependent on any other foreign power.”
“Hm,” Maria looked thoughtful.
“What’s the matter?”
“Do you know what your father’s dearest dream was?” she asked wistfully.
“For me to be cured?”
“Of course! You’re so right about that. But after that, his second dearest dream?”
Baldwin shook his head.
“To conquer Egypt.”
Baldwin sat up straighter. “To conquer Egypt—is that really possible?”
“Your father’s armies burned the suburbs of Cairo, Baldwin. Some say he could have taken it, if only he had not been persuaded by bad advice to make peace instead.” Baldwin was frowning with concentration, but he said nothing. “Do you know why it is so important to conquer Egypt?”
Baldwin shook his head.
“Shall I tell you?”
“Of course! Why?”
“Because if we don’t conquer Egypt,” she paused, “Egypt will conquer us.”
“Can’t we live in peace?”
“No. Islam does not recognize our right to exist. I’m sure the Archbishop of Tyre could explain this to you better and in more depth. He has studied Islam for decades and wrote a whole book on the history of it, but what I do know is that Islam divides the world into two parts: the dar al-Islam, the House of Islam, and the dar al-Harb, the House of War. Some Islamic scholars allow for a third House, a twilight zone between the other two, the dar al-ahd or the House of Treaty. On the other hand, many Islamic scholars teach instead that there can be no permanent peace between the dar al-Islam and the dar al-Harb. What that means is that between your kingdom and your Muslim neighbors there can only be temporary treaties—or war. Peace, they argue, is only possible when the entire world belongs to the dar al-Islam.”
Baldwin was gazing at her with such intensity that Maria felt compelled to again advise. “If you don’t believe me, Baldwin, talk to the good Archbishop of Tyre.”
“I believe you because it explains things I hadn’t understood before. Thank you.”
“The best way to defend a kingdom, my father used to say, is to attack the enemy. If we do not want to be swallowed whole, we must attack, attack, and attack again.”
Baldwin nodded, his face tense yet firm and determined. “I understand.”
“And if you are going to attack Egypt, sire, you need not the fickle fleets of Italian merchant cities seeking commercial advantage and profit, but the professional Imperial fleet that my great-uncle can send you.”
Baldwin looked her straight in the eye. “Did the Emperor send you here?”
“Yes, he asked me to speak to you and remind you of the promises he had made your father. His fleet, our army—to destroy Sultan Salah al-Din in Egypt.”
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