Sir Daniel finally caught up with Ibelin at the Cattle Market. Ibelin had been ceaselessly patrolling the city for four days, apparently without stopping to sleep, since he seemed to be everywhere: on Tancred’s Tower and at the Citadel, of course, but also inspecting the men holding the Armenian sectors of the wall to ensure they maintained their vigilance, encouraging the women running the field kitchens, and visiting the wounded. That he also took time to check on the livestock struck Daniel as somewhat obsessive—even if the pig market was within range of the Saracen siege engines and Ibelin had ordered the pigs moved to the cattle market, which was not under bombardment.
As Ibelin left the market, Daniel intercepted him. “My lord, there’s something we lepers want to propose to you. If you would just come with me?”
Ibelin stopped. Up close Daniel could see the strain of the last four days written on the baron’s face. “Is this important?” Ibelin asked, in a tone that suggested he did not believe it could be.
That hurt, and Daniel became slightly resentful. Ibelin still saw him as a runaway baker’s apprentice, he thought. But he was going to change that. He drew himself upright and answered firmly, “Yes, my lord; it’s about the siege engines.” When Daniel could detect no reaction, he added, “We have a plan to destroy at least some of them.”
“So do I,” Ibelin countered. “And I need to implement it.” He glanced to the west, where the sun had now set, leaving only an orange smudge on the underside of a large cloud bank. He had come to the cattle market in part to pass the time until darkness, when he planned to lead an attack on the siege engines.
Daniel took advantage of his silence to speak up. “My father says you plan to attack the siege engines tonight. You must hear us out before you do that!” Daniel insisted.
Ibelin turned back to Daniel. He should have guessed that Sir Roger or Father Michael would keep Daniel well informed of his plans. “All right. Tell me.”
“Not here, my lord; I want to you to hear it from all of us.”
Ibelin raised his eyebrows, but Daniel did not detect the gesture because Ibelin’s eyebrows were hidden under his coif. All Daniel saw was that Ibelin nodded. Together they started for the long, covered market that led from this quarter of the city near the southern wall, due north to the Syrian exchange just east of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
It was rapidly getting dark, and the bells were ringing Vespers as they entered the market. Normally the shopkeepers would have been locking up their stalls or sweeping away the rubbish in preparation for going home, leaving the narrow, paved alley almost abandoned. Instead, Daniel was startled to find himself amidst masses of people, as if it were the middle of the busiest day in pilgrim season. The entire covered alleyway stretching out before them as it scaled the hill ahead of them was lit up by brass and glass lamps swaying in the arches of the shops.
Then it dawned on Daniel that these weren’t shoppers, but rather the families of the shopkeepers. They were sheltering from the enemy bombardment behind the stone walls and under the stone vaults of the market. Children cried and laughed, infants squalled, old men gossiped, and women chatted—all cut off from the sight and sound of incoming boulders, the screams of combat, and the flames and smoke of the fires. It was like being in a womb—or a tomb, Daniel thought, as they made their way up the alleyway punctuated by steps between the shops in the flanking vaults.
They emerged at the Syrian exchange and turned into the street between the Hospital and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They walked past the courtyard where Ibelin had created eighty-one new knights, and on between the shuttered souvenir shops. Here the air was heavy with smoke from fires that had been ignited all around, and as they came abreast of the Patriarch’s palace, they encountered the charred remains of a half-dozen shops that had burned before the fire could be put out. The ashes blew in the light evening wind, and some embers winked at them in the darkness.
Beyond the Patriarch’s palace, they reached the corner of the wall beside Tancred’s Tower now occupied by the lepers. It stank badly because the latrines were inadequate for the numbers crowded together in this awkward, cramped space. But at the sight of Ibelin, the lepers struggled to their feet and stood upright. They seemed strangely excited about something.
When a hush had fallen over them, Sir Daniel spoke. “My lord. If we don’t destroy the Sultan’s siege engines, they will surely destroy us.” He gestured vaguely across the city where several fires were still burning, but he did not try Ibelin’s patience by pausing. “But the Saracens guard them well, both day and night. Furthermore, they will expect attacks from the flanks by men sallying out of the other gates of Jerusalem.”
Ibelin said nothing. Daniel not only appeared to know his plan, he was right. Ibelin just didn’t have any alternative.
“But, my lord, what if we were to sally forth from here?” Daniel pointed at the heavy postern gate almost lost in the shadows behind him. “Just out there are two of the enemy’s siege towers. If we could set them on fire, the enemy will be distracted and partially blinded as well. If the siege towers go up, they will light up this entire sector of the wall—and the perimeter, where the mangonels are, will be cast in greater darkness. While all attention is on the burning siege towers, you can lead the attack on the mangonels!” Daniel got his plan out all in one breath, eager for approbation.
Ibelin drew a deep breath to keep calm. “Sir Daniel, the idea of a diversion is a good one, and I thank you for it. But the men out there defending the siege towers are some of Salah al-Din’s best. If we so much as crack this postern to let troops out, they will rush forward and overwhelm us, possibly gaining entry. The city would be lost almost immediately.”
“No, my lord, it won’t! I mean, if fighting men tried to sally out, you are right. The enemy would joyously slaughter them and storm the postern. But we’re suggesting that we go out.”
Ibelin stared at Daniel for a second, and then let his eyes sweep over the nearly two hundred lepers collected around him. They were nodding vigorous assent.
“If we go out in our rags and bandages, begging mercy and saying we have been expelled,” Daniel hastened to explain, “they will be shocked and cast into confusion. Meanwhile, other men from the garrison can slam the postern shut and secure it. But each of us will carry a pot of Greek fire hidden in our bandages. As soon as we are in range, we will start pelting the siege towers with them to set them alight. When the towers go up in flame, you can launch your attack on the mangonels.”
“You’ll be trapped between the burning siege engines and the closed postern!” Ibelin protested. “You will all die.”
“We will all die, my lord,” Sir Daniel answered steadily, adding with passion, “but rather than dying limb by limb in shame and poverty, we will die so others might save Jerusalem for Christ.”
“This is what you have all decided to do?” Ibelin asked, directing his question to the other lepers, searching their misshapen and deteriorating faces for some sign of dissent or doubt. He found none—at least not in the poor light of this confined space. They all seemed to be nodding, and several ventured to call out “Yes, my lord!” until someone shouted “Deus le Volt!” The battle cry of the First Crusade was rapidly picked up by the others and became a chant. “Deus le Volt!” God wills it.
“But you need to supply us with enough Greek fire,” Daniel hastened to point out in a low voice as the others chanted.
Balian met Daniel’s eyes. He knew this was Daniel’s idea, although he could not know how he had convinced the others to join him. He sensed Daniel still wanted to atone for the sins he thought he had committed: letting Ibrahim get expelled from Baldwin’s service, not stopping Guy de Lusignan from wrenching the Regency from a browbeaten Baldwin. . . . But did he really have the right to lead the other lepers to certain death?
“I think King Baldwin would want this,” Daniel played his trump. “I think he would want lepers to destroy the siege towers.”
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