“But we’re almost out of water here,” Beth protested. “I’ve heard many of the women say we can’t hold out much longer.”
“Of course we can,” Dawit insisted. He pointed to the reservoirs at the foot of the castle walls, which were still hundreds of feet above the enemy. “See, they aren’t near empty yet.” Yet he did not sound as confident as he would have liked. Dawit’s fear was that they would soon kill the horses to save water, and he couldn’t bear the thought.
Beth, however, had other fears. She drew a ragged breath of clean air and admitted to Dawit, “If—if we surrender, Dawit, they’ll kill me as an apostate.”
Dawit looked over at her sharply, and although she did not dare meet his eye, he judged her mood correctly and risked putting his arm around her. She did not shrink back from his touch or even wince. Instead, she leaned against his warm, strong body in instinctive search of protection. “How would they know you were once Muslim?” he asked.
“They’ll know! They’ll know!” Beth insisted irrationally. “Or someone will betray me. Martha hates me.” Although this was an exaggeration, there was little doubt that Elizabeth’s serving maid considered herself much better than the Syrian convert, and in the stress that would follow surrender and capture, there was no way of knowing what anyone might do.
“But if it comes to a surrender, then I will be with you,” Dawit assured her. “I’ll tell everyone you are my wife.”
“Oh, Dawit,” Beth nestled closer. “I wish that that were true—even though it would not stop them from killing me. In Sharia law, a Muslim woman who marries a Christian must be stoned to death just like an adulteress, because Christian marriage isn’t recognized. To them,” she nodded with her head to the Saracen army at their feet, “I am a whore and a traitor and something only to be spat upon and kicked to death. The women would do it to me even if the men didn’t. There is no one in that whole army who would feel so much as a whisper of pity. They will tear me apart alive.” All her pent-up terror was pouring out.
“No, they won’t,” Dawit insisted, holding her more firmly. “They won’t because I won’t let them—ever. And they won’t because this castle isn’t going to fall. Even if we have to kill the horses, we’ll hold out until the army comes.”
“No, Dawit!” Beth knew just how much he loved the horses and what it took for him to say this. “We won’t have to kill the horses—just turn them loose. They,” again she indicated the Saracen army with her head, “would rather tear a girl apart limb for limb and trample on her belly until her guts come out of her mouth than harm so much as a hair on a horse’s body. You can let the horses all go free and they will be well fed and watered and groomed.” Tears were running down her face as she spoke—for much as she wished the horses well, it hurt to be reminded that she was worth less than even her donkey to the men outside the castle.
Dawit, on the other hand, was reassured to think the horses might not be slaughtered after all. He nodded to himself and held Beth closer. They stood like that in silence, content to be together and (comparatively) alone. But then the sentries shattered their moment of peace.
“What the hell’s going on there?”
“Messenger of some kind.”
“They sure the f**k look upset about something.”
“They’re mounting up—the whole lot of them.”
“Better report to Oultrejourdain.”
One of the sentries ducked down the stairs while Beth and Dawit stared at the camp below. The agitation was clearly spreading, like the ripples from a stone thrown in a still pond. The disturbance had reached al-Adil’s tent, and a moment later several men emerged from it and gestured dramatically until horses were brought. Al-Adil rode straight for his brother’s tent, and soon men emerged from Salah al-Din’s tent as well. Although from this distance it was impossible to guess which was the Sultan himself, they could be sure he was there, that they were seeing him. Meanwhile horns were being sounded, and they appeared to be answered from within the castle. Going to the other side of the tower, Beth and Dawit looked down into the ward to see Oultrejourdain storm out of the tract of buildings south of the chapel, trailed by a least a dozen other men. They crossed the inner courtyard and plunged into the ward, lost from view behind the chapel. But more men were streaming out of all the buildings around the ward, most of them donning helmets and girding on swords as they ran.
“They’re going to assault!” Beth concluded in alarm.
“We better get back inside,” Dawit decided and hustled Beth down the stairs.
He escorted her to her chamber. As she entered, she was received with reproachful cries of “Where have you been?” and “I’ve been frantic with fear!”
Dawit backed away, and Beth faced the deluge of censure alone. She didn’t care what they said or thought, because the moments with Dawit had been worth it all. If she was going to die tonight or tomorrow, it would be knowing that Dawit loved her.
And then the Dowager Queen swept into the room and ordered everyone to be still. “The northwestern lookouts are reporting the banners of Antioch and Tripoli at the head of a large force. They estimate as many as two thousand horse with infantry behind.”
“Hail Mary!” Elizabeth dropped on her knees and started offering profuse thanks, but Maria cut her off. “Stop that! The army has come, but the outcome of the battle that must now ensue is far from certain. We are about to have the dubious pleasure of watching our husbands fight—maybe even die—to rescue us.” That Balian and Baldwin, not to mention the Constable of Jerusalem, were in the approaching host was beyond doubt.
Elizabeth’s jaw dropped, and Eschiva clapped her hand over her mouth in horror. Neither of them had given a thought to the fact that the arrival of the army did not necessarily mean rescue. It just meant the confrontation that had failed to take place in September had been postponed and relocated. Only now, the Christian army did not occupy a spring.
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