Authors: Jack Hight
Also by Jack Hight
Book Two of the Saladin Trilogy
First published in Great Britain in 2012 by John Murray
An Hachette UK company
Copyright © Jack Hight 2012
The right of Jack Hight to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Maps drawn by Rosie Collins
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.
All characters in this publication – other than the obvious historical figures – are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
For my grandparents,
Jack and Patsy, Tom and Jean
Kingdom of the Nile
Egypt, garden of the Nile. In those days it was weak after years of misrule – viziers betraying one another for power while the caliphs withdrew into luxurious seclusion. Egypt was weak but still rich. The Nile brought trade from the heart of Africa and nourished abundant crops, all of which fed the coffers of the caliph in Cairo. The Kingdom of the Nile was a fruit ripe for the plucking, and Crusader and Saracen alike longed to take it. Whoever controlled Egypt would eventually control the Holy Land. King Amalric in Jerusalem knew this. So did Nur ad-Din, the King of Syria. And so did Saladin
The Chronicle of Yahya al-Dimashqi
OCTOBER 1163: JERUSALEM
ohn’s head jerked to the side as he was slapped. He blinked awake to the taste of blood in his mouth and looked about trying to orient himself, then groaned as the excruciating pain in his shoulders washed over him. He was still stretched out on the rack, his feet tied down at one end, his bound hands stretched too far above his head. He looked to the crank on his right. Its every turn stretched his hands and feet a little further apart. He must have fainted after the last turn. Past the crank he could see a small square window set high up in a stone wall. The light filtering through was dim. He was sure it had been day just a moment ago. How long had he been unconscious? As he watched, a hand grabbed and turned the crank. John howled as he felt his shoulders starting to dislocate. His vision dimmed and then someone slapped him again. His eyes blinked open to see Heraclius leaning over him.
The priest had an almost feminine beauty, with high cheekbones, a thin nose and full lips. His deep-set eyes – as blue as the turquoise waters of Acre Harbour on the day years ago when John had first arrived in the Holy Land – narrowed slightly as they studied his victim. The priest smiled, betraying a grim satisfaction at the suffering he had wrought. ‘Stay with me, Saxon,’ he purred in heavily accented Latin. Heraclius was a half-educated country priest from the wild Auvergne in France, and he had a peasant’s love of cruelty. He leaned forward to whisper
John’s ear. ‘Tell me, why did you fight for the Saracens? Why did you betray the Cross?’
‘I never betrayed the Faith,’ John growled through gritted teeth.
‘Liar!’ Heraclius hissed. ‘You killed your fellow Christians. You served the infidel, the forces of Satan.’ Heraclius placed his hand on the crank. John flinched. But the priest did not turn the crank; he made a show of studying it, running his finger lightly over its handle. ‘The rack is a dreadful thing. A few more turns and your arms will be pulled from their sockets. You will be crippled, unable to lift a sword ever again.’ He bent over so that his breath was hot on John’s face. Their eyes met. ‘You spent many years in Aleppo, Saxon. You know its fortifications, its weaknesses. Tell me: how can we take the city?’
‘I have told you. It will take a siege of many months. You will have to starve the people out.’
‘No! There must be a secret entrance, a weak point.’ John shook his head. ‘I see.’ Heraclius sighed and then straightened. When he spoke again it was in a louder voice, as if he were delivering a homily in church. ‘All that happens is part of God’s plan, Saxon, even your faithlessness. It was He who determined that the infidels would capture you; that you would betray Him by serving them. And it was God who delivered you into my hands. Do you know why? Because you have come to know our enemy, their cities, their people, their walls. You have been sent to us by God as the key to their destruction.’
‘You are wasting your time. I know no secrets.’
‘We shall see. Perhaps we simply need to find new ways to motivate you. Pepin! Bring the coals.’
John twisted his head to the side and saw a brawny, square-faced guard approaching, his hands wrapped in cloth. He carried a shallow bronze dish containing a layer of smouldering coals. He set the dish on the table beside the rack. Heraclius took a pair of pincers and selected a chestnut-sized coal. He held it just
from John’s bare stomach and then moved it up past John’s chest towards his face. John tried to twist his head away, but Pepin grabbed hold of his ears, holding him still. Heraclius held the coal just above the bridge of John’s nose. The heat was intense – like the blast from an oven – and within moments John felt as if his forehead were on fire. An acrid smell filled the room as his eyebrows began to singe. Heraclius bent close so that his face was lit red by the glowing coal. ‘Tell me about your master, this Yusuf.’
John swallowed. ‘He is Emir of Tell Bashir. His father is the governor of Damascus and his uncle, Shirkuh, commands the armies of the Saracen king.’
‘And how did you come to be in his service?’
‘I came to the Holy Land with the Second Crusade. I was captured at Damascus and purchased by Yusuf as a slave. He was only a boy then.’
‘You saved his life at the battle of Butaiha. Why?’
John hesitated, his eyes fixed on the burning coal. ‘Yusuf is my friend.’
‘He is an infidel!’
John looked away from the coal and met Heraclius’s eyes. ‘He is the best man I have ever known.’
‘I see.’ Heraclius turned away and dropped the coal back into the dish. John exhaled. ‘Oh, I am not done with you,’ the priest said. ‘Not yet.’ He nodded to Pepin, who placed the coals on a shelf just beneath John’s feet. At first the warmth was almost pleasant, but then John’s feet grew uncomfortably hot, as if he had set them too long beside a fire. He twitched, trying to jerk himself away, but his arms were still stretched to breaking point, and the motion caused a spasm of pain in his left shoulder. He lay still and squeezed his eyes shut, his teeth grinding as he fought against the burning in his feet. He thought he could feel blisters starting to form on his heels. And then the heat was gone. Pepin had removed the dish of coals. A moment later Heraclius’s face reappeared above him.
‘What of Nur ad-Din, the Saracen king? You met him, yes?’ John nodded. ‘How is he protected? Could an assassin reach him?’
‘In camp he is surrounded by the mamluks of his private guard. In Aleppo he rarely leaves the citadel. No assassin could reach him alive.’
‘Do you swear it?’
John nodded. ‘By Christ’s blood.’
‘We shall see.’ Heraclius gestured to Pepin, who replaced the dish of coals.
The pain came more quickly this time. John’s entire body tensed and he began to squirm despite the pain in his shoulders. To keep from shouting, he bit his tongue so hard that it began to bleed. Heraclius watched impassively. John could smell burning flesh – his own. ‘I speak the truth!’ he shouted. ‘What do you want from me, you bastard? What do you want me to say?’
‘There, there. I believe you,’ Heraclius soothed. He frowned. ‘I was wrong. You are not the key to defeating the Saracens. Pepin, take the coals away.’
The heat vanished. Heraclius fetched a wet cloth, with which he gently dabbed John’s feet. The relief was so overwhelming that John almost fainted. ‘Thank God,’ he murmured.
‘Do not thank him yet,’ Heraclius said. ‘Your suffering has just begun.’
‘But you said you believe me!’
‘And I do.’ Heraclius set the wet cloth aside. He crossed the room and paused before a table covered with instruments of torture: thumbscrews, hooks for tearing flesh, metal claws known as Spanish ticklers, and other devices whose use John hoped he would never learn. The priest picked up one of these last objects, a pear-shaped metal contraption with a wing nut at the top. ‘Now that we have discovered what you know, I must see to your salvation. Your time amongst the infidels has stained your soul. We must wash it clean.’ As he began to turn the
nut the pear expanded, four separate pieces of metal spreading out. ‘You must suffer for betraying the faith. It is the only way to find salvation.’ The priest nodded to Pepin. ‘Hold his mouth open. He shall pay the price for breaking his crusader’s oath.’
John clenched his mouth shut, but Pepin grabbed his lower jaw with one hand and pulled back on his nose with the other. The second John’s mouth opened, Heraclius shoved in the pear. It tasted of metal and blood. Heraclius gave the wing nut a twist and the pear expanded slightly, forcing John’s mouth to open wider. John gagged and coughed. He jerked his head side to side, trying to spit the pear out, but Pepin grabbed him by the ears and held him still.