They had just come abreast of the Church of Gethsemane when a troop of Mamluke cavalry rushed down the hill to block their path from about thirty feet away. “Who are you and what do you want?” a voice shouted in Arabic.
Ibelin let out a sigh of relief. They were willing to talk.
Ordering Mathewos to remain where he was, he continued forward until he was near enough to speak without shouting. “You know perfectly well who I am,” he told them, seeing the way their eyes scanned his surcoat and even looked at the hilt of his sword. When he was satisfied that they did indeed know who he was, he continued, “I wish to speak to the Sultan Salah ad-Din.”
“Do you surrender?”
“No. I have come to discuss terms.”
This provoked an eruption of angry exclamations from some and laughter from others, until someone said, “The only terms you can negotiate are converting to Islam or death!”
“Well said,” the Sultan’s voice answered, and the riders parted, bowing their heads to him and backing their mounts out of his way.
Salah ad-Din rode forward until his horse’s head was level with Centurion’s tail and the two men were exactly opposite each other, but a good eight feet apart—too far apart for a sword to reach.
The baron bowed his head to the Sultan.
Salah ad-Din looked Ibelin in the eye. “You want to negotiate for yourself or for Jerusalem?”
“You’re too late,” Salah ad-Din told him with a dismissive gesture. “No one negotiates for the possession of a city he already holds.” As he spoke he stretched out his arm and pointed, making Ibelin turn around in his saddle. Behind him, on the corner tower at the junction of the eastern and northern wall, one of the Sultan’s banners was fluttering proudly.
Balian felt his heart stop.
Dawit, fighting at the breach, saw a handful of Saracens break off the assault to scramble from the rubble up to the edge of the broken wall. In horror, he saw them gain the wall and start to hack and slice through the archers, who were so focused on the men still contesting the breach that they failed to see the Saracens who had scaled the wall behind them until it was too late. Several Syrian archers fell backwards over the wall into the city as they spun to face this new danger and lost their footing. And while most of the Saracens cleared the top of the wall, one rushed to plant the Sultan’s banner on the corner tower.
The sight of that banner flying over Jerusalem sent Dawit into a berserker rage. It symbolized for him total destruction—the slaughter of his wife and infant son. He roared and flung himself up the mound of rubble, running with so much force that even his enemies ducked out of his way. His strides were long and he was possessed of superhuman strength as he flung himself onto the wall, still bellowing in fury and oblivious to the surge of comrades behind him. He lunged for the banner and with all his might flung it down again into the ditch, even as three Saracens closed around him and stabbed him from all sides.
The Baron of Ibelin and the Sultan of Egypt and Syria were still staring at the banner when it was thrown down, followed by the bodies of a dozen men—evidently tossed over the side by a ferocious Christian counterattack.
Ibelin noted coldly, “No, you are not yet in possession of the city. And before you do take possession, we will kill every Muslim prisoner, every woman and every child, and then—before we sally forth on our last sortie—we will enter the Dome of the Rock, and with pickaxes we will destroy the foundations right down to the grotto underneath. We will—”
He didn’t have to continue. Salah ad-Din had blanched. “You would not dare!”
“Oh, yes, we would, your excellency. Oh, yes, we would.” Everything depended on the Sultan believing him. And in that minute, Balian was completely prepared to carry out his threat. “We would rather destroy the Holy Sepulcher ourselves than let you do it. We will destroy every monument sacred to your faith and mine before we leave you a city full of rotting corpses! And then we will come out of the city and we will fight without any fear. Not one of us will die without having killed several of you!” By the time he finished, Balian meant every word of it.
Salah ad-Din glanced again to the ramparts, but the banners of Jerusalem flew from every tower along the length of the entire wall, and from the shouts coming from the unseen breach it was clear that the most recent assault wave had also been repelled. The shouts of “Jerusalem!” and “Ibelin!” were too loud and too distinct to mean anything but that the Christians had again repulsed the assault.
Salah ad-Din looked back at Ibelin and studied his face. He did not think the man was bluffing. Furthermore, he recognized his mistake. He had told him he did not want the sacred sites damaged. That Ibelin exploited that knowledge now was only to be expected, and it was his own fault.
Still he hesitated. He looked again to the ramparts, hoping that by some miracle his own banners would reappear, but they did not. Instead, the remnants of the last assault on the breach limped into view, carrying their dead and wounded.
This was crazy. He had wanted to take the city intact, and he’d already damaged much of it and sacrificed thousands of lives. “You will surrender the city and withdraw? Every single man, woman, and child?”
“Yes.” Balian didn’t dare breathe. He didn’t dare believe the Sultan was seriously considering his offer.
“No,” Salah ad-Din answered.
Balian let the air out of his lungs and waited for the next blow, utterly without hope.
“Not after the casualties you have inflicted. If you surrender the city intact, then I will guarantee there will be no slaughter—as your forefathers perpetrated—but every citizen must buy their freedom. In exchange for a ransom of ten dinars per man, five per woman, and two per child, the citizens will be permitted to purchase their freedom and withdraw with as much as they can carry. Those who cannot raise the ransom will remain my slaves.”
Hope took hold of Balian’s heart in a grip so fierce it seemed to almost crush the life from him. This offer could mean life for nearly sixty thousand Christians, but ten dinars was more than the poor of the city could possibly pay. “The city is full of refugees, your excellency. Some thirty thousand men and women with their children, fled here in terror for their lives after the Battle of Hattin. They came here with nothing, and so have nothing with which to buy their freedom.”
Salah ad-Din nodded solemnly. “No doubt. And no doubt the treasury of Jerusalem is still largely intact. Or your Church, I am certain, will be moved by pity to sacrifice some of its infamous wealth for the sake of the poor the prophet Jesus so eloquently championed.” The sarcasm in his tone was unmistakable. “With one hundred thousand dinars, you can buy the freedom of them all.”
Ibelin wanted to accept, but there was no way they could scrape together a hundred thousand dinars. “Look at the dome of the Temple of God,” he countered, pointing behind him. “The gold has already been stripped.” Salah ad-Din’s eyes shifted to the dome and back to Ibelin, but he said nothing. Ibelin was forced to be explicit. “We do not have one hundred thousand dinars in the whole city.”
“How much can you raise?”
Balian had no idea what Heraclius might have or if there was anything left in the royal treasury, but the King of England had deposited thirty thousand bezants with the Hospitallers. He took a chance that the Grand Hospitaller would be more concerned with the poor than his Order’s honor and declared: “Thirty thousand dinars.”
Salah ad-Din shrugged. “That will buy the freedom of three thousand paupers.”
This is surreal, Balian registered. I am bargaining like a customer in a bazaar with the Sultan of Egypt and Syria for the freedom of thousands of Christians. “Most of the refugees are women and children. The sum of thirty thousand dinars should cover fifteen thousand refugees.”
“Six thousand,” the Sultan countered.
Balian strained to keep his nerve. “Twelve.”
The Sultan nodded. “Done. You have two days to prepare the city to receive us. Once we occupy the city, you will have forty days to raise the ransoms. At the end of that time, anyone still in the city and not in possession of a receipt for a ransom payment will become my property, along with all the goods and property still in the city.”
“Agreed,” Ibelin answered firmly.
Salah ad-Din nodded and started to turn his horse’s head away.
“I would ask one last favor,” Balian stopped him.
Salah ad-Din looked over, and his expression suggested he thought Ibn Barzan was going too far. The whole deal hung by a silk thread.
“We will turn over the Dome of the Rock in perfect condition, clean and empty of our symbols, if—in exchange—you promise not to destroy the Holy Sepulcher.”
“Of course,” Salah ad-Din agreed with a shrug. He had never intended to destroy the Holy Sepulcher; pilgrim traffic was far too lucrative. He spurred away at a canter, already shouting orders.
Balian did not have that much energy. He felt utterly exhausted and stunned. He swung Centurion around and started back for the open Jehoshaphat Gate at a walk. As he came abreast of Mathewos, the Ethiopian fell in beside him.
“What did he say, my lord?” Mathewos asked anxiously. From the Sultan’s energy and Ibelin’s listlessness, he presumed the worst.
“I have surrendered Jerusalem.”
“In exchange for our lives?” Mathewos asked anxiously. He did not know that Dawit was already dead; he thought the surrender would save Dawit, along with Tsion, Beth, and little Menelik.
“Yes, and our freedom to the extent that we can pay a ransom of ten dinars per man, five per woman, and two per child.”
Mathewos quickly calculated that he would need thirty-two dinars for his little family. It was a lot of money, but it was life and freedom that he had not dared dream about even an hour ago.
“I will pay for everyone in my household,” Ibelin assured him, mistaking his silence. “And I believe the Grand Hospitaller will open his coffers for the refugees and the poor. Maybe even Heraclius will be moved to pity.”
“This is a miracle, my lord!” Mathewos exclaimed in wonder as he grasped that this was real. He and his family were being granted life and freedom!
“Do you really think so?” Balian asked, drawing up to look hard at Mathewos. “I have surrendered the City of God, Mathewos. I have put the Holy Sepulcher in the hands of men who do not think Christ was the Son of God and do not believe He rose from the dead. Do you think He will ever forgive me for that?”
“There are more than fifty thousand people in this city, my lord,” Mathewos pointed to Jerusalem. “Fifty thousand people who—but for you—would be dead or enslaved. You cannot think that He, who let himself be crucified that we might live, would value this place over their lives.”
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