A long bench ran along the opposite wall, ending at a door that, by the smell, gave access to an outhouse in the adjacent yard. On this bench sat a figure in the black robes Arab women wore in public. Not even her eyes were visible, and her hands were encased in black cotton mittens. Balian’s first thought was that such garments could as easily hide a man as a woman. “You’re sure that’s a woman?” He asked Shoreham in French.
“Her voice was a woman’s, and just to be sure, my wife sent me out and had her remove the burqa. She assures me it is a woman, and she is unarmed.”
Balian turned to the woman and addressed her in Arabic. “I have been told you are seeking asylum, and if granted this, you will give us information about Salah al-Din.”
“Yes, my lord.” Her voice was melodic and soft.
“Why would you do this? Betray your lord?”
“Betray my rapist? Is that so hard to understand? I have hated him from the day he took me. The sight of the new women, still dazed and with the blood and tears wet on them, reminded me of what I once was.”
“You are a Christian captive?”
“Taken in the sack of Darum seven years ago. I was then twenty-two years old.”
“Can you recite the Lord’s Prayer?”
“Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be they name—
“Fine. I will arrange for you to be taken to the sisters of the Hospital, who will be able to protect you and provide you with honest employment.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
“What do you know of Salah al-Din’s plans that we do not know already?”
“That he intends to take the bulk of his army away from here this very night. He will leave the infantry to keep the king bottled up, but he will take his army to lay waste to as much of the kingdom as he can, killing the men and stealing the women and children as he did seven years ago, but on a larger scale. If no one stops him, he will try to take Jerusalem. Not to hold it. He knows he is not yet strong enough for that, but to show us that he can take it, and to humiliate us by desecrating the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and plundering the riches from the palaces of the king and the patriarch.”
“How do you know this?”
“They joked about it in front of me as I served them wine and food.”
“My master and some of the other emirs. Not Salah al-Din. He was not there. He does not drink wine or take part in such feasts, but my master and his friends do. They often gather in my master’s tent for their pleasures, to avoid Salah al-Din’s disapproving eye.”
“And they speak freely in front of you?”
“Of course. I am no different to them than the food or the furnishings. I am just an object created to please and satisfy them silently without thoughts or feelings. They see me only a soulless body waiting to serve them.”
The bitterness in her voice was so intense it made the others in the room squirm. Shoreham’s wife grumbled something about “just jealous of some new slave girl.” Mistress Shoreham’s callousness shocked Balian and served only to make him more determined to help—and believe—the slave woman. He turned back to her. “Thank you. This is invaluable information. I will pass it on to the king. Is there anything else I should tell him?”
“Yes.” She reached up and tore the veils from her head, revealing a strikingly beautiful face with dark hair, straight brows, and nose—with fury in her eyes. “Tell him that I charge him and you, my lord, with stopping them! Stop them from destroying our crops! Stop them from burning our homes and churches! Stop them from castrating our sons! Stop them from turning virtuous women and innocent girls into hated whores! Stop them!”
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