The news that the garrison at Acre was offering terms spread like wildfire through the siege camp. By the time Ibelin left his tent to follow the summons from the French King for a council of war, men by the thousands had converged on the royal tents. Ibelin’s knights had to force a way through the crowds for him. The constant conversation made the whole camp hum and buzz like a disturbed beehive. Men were squabbling, speculating, gesturing, demanding, posturing, and just plain standing around dumbfounded.
“Does this mean we won’t get to plunder it?” one man asked a companion resentfully, only to receive the rude reply, “Of course not, dumb-ass, but it means we won’t have to bleed anymore, either, and can move on to Jerusalem!” That put things in a nutshell for the crusaders, Ibelin supposed, but things were not that simple for the men of Outremer. This explained why so many of them—sergeants, squires, and turcopoles—had clustered around his tent and moved with him through the camp, conveying by their presence how much they expected of him.
The French King’s magnificent blue-and-gold tent loomed out of the chaotic surroundings, the long fleur-de-lis banner floating on a light breeze from a pole projecting out of the roof. Before Ibelin could enter, however, a weathered man, in an elegant but much-worn surcoat over sagging chain mail, caught his arm. “My lord, remember, those are our homes in there! I don’t know what condition they’re in, and I realize that nothing movable is left, but the substance—the wells and gardens, walls and floors—is intact. We want our houses back, my lord.”
“What is your name, sir?” Ibelin asked politely.
“My name is unimportant. I speak not for myself but for the knights of Acre.”
Ibelin nodded. “I understand sir.”
“This isn’t just about Acre,” another man piped up, latching on to Ibelin as he tried to move forward again. “What happens here will set a precedent. If they’re allowed to plunder the places they recover from the Saracens, we’ll have been robbed twice!” The speaker this time was a younger knight in torn and much-repaired armor under a faded and patched surcoat.
Again, Ibelin nodded and repeated, “I understand.” The man dropped back. Ibelin had reached the entrance to the French King’s tent. Sergeants in fleur-delis surcoats formed a barrier to keep the masses out, while royal household knights asked for the name of each man and checked the names against a list before letting anyone inside. Ibelin had been invited; his knights had not. He nodded to them to indicate he would proceed alone, but as he turned to cross the threshold into the tent itself, Sir Bartholomew croaked out, “Balian.”
Ibelin turned and waited, but Sir Bartholomew couldn’t find words. He just swallowed, his eyes pleading.
Balian reached out and grasped his shoulder. “You don’t have to remind me, Bart. Not a night goes by when I am not tormented by their plight. God grant me words to make the others understand. Pray that He does.” Sir Bartholomew nodded mutely, his face strained, and Ibelin entered the French King’s tent.
Although this was enormous, larger than any tent Ibelin had seen before, it was already crowded. The number of people crammed inside, combined with the effects of the afternoon sun and the absence of a breeze, made the atmosphere thick and stifling. Ibelin felt himself begin to sweat as he wormed his way past the lower-ranked commanders—the Danes and Frisians, the Pisan and Genoese captains, the bannerets of England and France—to the inner circle, which consisted only of barons.
The Kings of England and France were both seated on large armed chairs representing thrones. The Dukes of Austria and Burgundy had also been provided with chairs, but neither Guy nor Conrad was seated. Instead, the rival kings of Jerusalem looked flushed and agitated, as if they had already clashed. The Count of Champagne cast Ibelin a vaguely relieved look as he entered, and William of Tiberius pushed his way through some of the English lords to reach Ibelin’s side. “King Richard tried to expel Montferrat,” he hissed under his breath, “and Philip answered that if Monferrat left, then Guy must also—”
“Is everyone of note here?” the King of England interrupted the exchange in a loud voice.
“I’m awaiting the Bishop of Beauvais,” Philip countered, harvesting a derisive snort from the King of England.
Ibelin exchanged a look with Reginald de Sidon, who had also made his way through the crowd to stand with him. Pagan de Haifa, William de Hebron, and the other lords of Outremer were one by one congregating around him, although Conrad himself was evidently reluctant to leave his position just to the left of the French King.
Philip of France did not look particularly well. Although he had recovered from Arnoldia sooner than the English King, he was still completely bald, and his face and hands were covered with unsightly sores. Richard of England, who had been more intensely sick, seemed to have recovered more completely. There was already a coppery fuzz covering his scalp and chin, while his forehead and nose were tanned.
Ibelin had to admire the fact that before he was fit enough to stand, Richard of England had had himself carried out to the battle lines in a litter so he could fire a crossbow at the defenders of Acre on the ramparts. While his efforts were materially insignificant, their effect on morale had been tangible. He had demonstrated to a demoralized army that he was back and fighting, his spirit and determination unbroken by the debilitating fever. Particularly significant was the fact that he did not disdain the “lowly” crossbow. By taking the weapon of sergeants in his own hands, the King of England had demonstrated a solidarity with the common soldiers that Ibelin had never seen in a king before—unless one counted that moment of defiance when Montferrat had fired a crossbow at the men escorting his father to demonstrate his determination to hold out. Guy de Lusignan wouldn’t have taken a crossbow in his hands to save his life, Ibelin thought, with a disgusted look at the former King.
Guy was flanked by his brothers, both of whom overshadowed him even here inside the tent. Guy was dressed in silk; his brothers wore chain mail. That, Ibelin decided, said it all.
At last, the Bishop of Beauvais arrived and followed King Philip’s gesture to come and stand directly behind his throne.
“Can we begin now?” King Richard asked impatiently.
“Yes, go ahead. You have a louder voice,” the French King conceded. It was not a compliment.
“My lords.” King Richard raised his voice, and the general gurgle of conversation faded out. “The garrison of Acre offered to surrender the city of Acre in exchange for their lives and their weapons—”
“What? We are to just let them walk away and fight us somewhere else? I can assure you my Emperor did not die so that we could let these vermin walk away, leaving behind a ruined shell!” It was the Duke of Austria who had the temerity to interrupt the King of England in this tone.
“You can be sure, my lord Duke, that I didn’t come all this way for such a pact, either!” the King of England snapped back. “I wasn’t finished. We rejected those terms, the King of France and I. We demanded, in addition to the surrender of Acre, two hundred thousand gold pieces, the return of the True Cross—” That produced a cheer from the men standing farther back—“and we rejected the right of the garrison to retain their arms.”
“Do they have two hundred thousand pieces of gold?” the Duke of Burgundy asked, startled.
“No—the Sultan will have to provide the gold as well as the True Cross.”
“So how do we know he’ll keep the terms of the agreement?” the Duke of Austria wanted to know.
Again, the King of England looked annoyed. “We will retain hostages.”
“How many?” the Austrian wanted to know.
“I think that is still open to negotiation, if we are in agreement with the overall outline of the terms.”
“No,” Ibelin answered bluntly, firmly, and loudly.
The King of England snapped his head around to glare at him, and the King of France raised his eyebrows in surprise, while both Lusignan and Montferrat frowned. From the corners of the tent came whispers of unease as people asked one another who had spoken and what was going on.
“Just what objections do you have?” Richard Plantagenet demanded irritably.
“That there is nothing in this agreement about Frankish captives, my lord. Hundreds of knights, who have since lost their land and so their ability to raise a ransom, are still in captivity. Thousands of women and children are enslaved because we have no means to purchase their freedom. There can be no agreement that does not take those Christian souls into account.”
“Amen, my lord! Well said!” This vocal support came from the Archbishop of Nazareth and was seconded at once—not just by the other prelates in the room, but by most of the lords of Outremer. Hebron even murmured a heartfelt, “Thank you, Ibelin,” in his ear.
The Kings of England and France exchanged a surprised look and conferred in whispers together before Richard spoke for them. “Fair enough; we’ll add that to our demands. How many?”
“One freed captive for every single Saracen we let go free from Acre,” Ibelin answered emphatically, earning a chorus of approval this time.
Richard and Philip exchanged a look. Philip nodded and Richard shrugged. “Why not?” the King of England replied. “Anything else?”
“No, my lords,” Ibelin conceded.
“Good. So be it.”
The council was over, and everyone started to disperse. Ibelin turned, anxious to get out of the stale air of the tent as soon as possible. Around him his fellow barons were congratulating him, thumping him on the back, and jabbering in elated tones. It took a few moments before they noticed that Ibelin himself was not joining in their high spirits. “What’s the matter, Balian?” Sidon asked as they reached the fresh air outside the tent at last.
“We don’t have a deal yet,” Ibelin snapped back. “All we have is an offer. Let’s see what al-Asadi Qara-Qush says before we congratulate ourselves.”
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