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A Thousand Days

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'One day in Jerusalem is like a thousand days, one month like a thousand months and one year like a thousand years.”

 Kaab al-Ahbra, Fadail

“Jerusalem is ours as much as yours.”

Salah al-din, in a letter to Richard the Lionheart.

thousand days cover

Cover art courtesy of the awesome caroline :)

 

Chapter One:

Jerusalem, November 1191/ Shawwal 587.

“Make way for our lord and sultan! The Victorious King, the Righteousness of Faith, Deliverer of Jerusalem, Abu 'l-Muzaffar Yusuf ibn Ayyub ibn Shahdi! Make way for Salah al-din!”

The crowd parted like Musa's sea. Tailors pushed against merchants, merchants pressed into imams, and imams stepped upon shoemakers' toes. A few men scrambled onto the square's crumbling pillars for a view. Others climbed the lower branches of the trees. Parents hoisted children on their shoulders as a broad avenue of dirty flagstones opened across the Temple Mount’s wide square to the door of the Qubbat as-Sakhra, the Dome of the Rock. Servants hurried to unroll Persian carpets across the stones.

Malik al-Sayf pulled his hood across his face as he pushed through the crowd. A merchant reeled backwards as Malik passed, pinching his nose against the eye-watering stench of sweat and hashish that rose from the Assassin's robe.

Malik stopped a few paces from the front of the crowd. The burnished dome of the House of the Chain shone like a steel mirror. White winter sky stretched between the minarets of the al-Aqsa mosque. The cold wind pricked savagely at Malik's ruined left arm. He rubbed his stump absently as he scanned the crowd. 

The streets must be empty, he thought. All the people are here. 

There were Syrians, Kurds, Maghrebis, Egyptians, green-eyed Persians and black-skinned Yemenis. Women in muddy robes sold dates to soldiers as Sufis wrapped in woollen robes gathered alms beside green-turbaned imams. Wealthy ladies hid themselves in richly decorated litters and tossed sweetmeats to the children who played their games of tag between the litter-slaves' legs. None of them bothered Malik. Few people troubled a man who smelt so bad. 

Malik unfocused his eyes and called upon the Eagle's vision. The crowd faded into grey. Here and there a man or woman shone sapphire blue, the mark of allies sympathetic to the Assassins and their Creed. The sultan's guards gleamed ruby red.

Malik saw nothing unusual. He held the sight a moment longer before he shifted his vision to an ordinary spectrum and began to eavesdrop on the crowd.

“The sultan has twenty thousand soldiers,” the man to his left said, “God willing, he'll drive the Franks into the sea.”

Another man snorted. “You're a fool!  Salah al-din's soldiers won't campaign in winter. The Franks, on the other hand, will...” 

His companion shook his head. “The Franks are crazy! Who fights in winter?”

“The Frankish lands are nothing but endless snow,” his friend said knowledgeably. “That's why the Franks have such pale skin. Our winters are nothing to them!” 

The sky opened, leaking chill rain.  Rivulets sluiced down the steel-grey dome of the House of the Chain. Flagstones too warm to walk upon barefoot in summer overflowed with water. The crowd scattered, raising shawls above their heads to shelter from the downpour.

Malik made his way to the closest palanquin; an elegant affair draped with curtains of gold-stamped silk. Beggars clustered around the litter. Malik lingered on the edge of the crowd. The litter's tall sides sheltered him from the storm. His ragged robe blended well with the beggars' tattered clothing.

A slender hand with henna-stained fingers emerged from the palanquin and scattered copper dirhams to the crowd as the beggars scrambled for coins. The curtains swung back into place. A moment later the hangings parted again as the lady tossed a coin to Malik.

Malik closed his hand around the coin. Paper crackled between his fingers. He looked down and saw a message wrapped around the coin. Earring bells chimed musically as the lady in the litter shifted. He knew the sound. Had no need of Eagle's sight to know her for an ally.

Malik slipped the coin into his belt. He unrolled the note and read the message.

There are Assassins in the city, it said. Are they yours?

Malik's eyes narrowed. He shook his head slightly. Water dripped from his hair.

Three months ago, there would have been a score of Assassins in Jerusalem for Malik to call upon in times of need. There had been five hundred villagers at Masyaf and ten hands of fighting men. Now the Assassins boasted only fifty novices, four rafiqs and twice that many dais. Half the Syrian Order had died to bring Al Mualim down.  Malik, rafiq of Jerusalem, was the only Assassin he knew within the city walls. If there were Assassins in Jerusalem, they were not Masyaf men.

A hawk screamed far above the dome as the rain eased. Then a horse appeared beneath the archway and Yusuf ibn Ayyub, Salah al-din, saviour of Jerusalem, hammer of the Frankish knights and the man who'd had the good fortune to be the right place at the right time when the Crusades forced the Muslim world to unite, came to the Temple Mount.

The crowd cheered as the sultan of all Islam rode slowly up the avenue. The wind howled like a mad muezzin, whipping the tail of Salah al-din's horse into silken froth. Falcon pennants snapped against their staffs as Salah al-din's entourage followed their master across the courtyard. Malik caught at his hood to keep his face concealed. The movement shifted the hilt of the knife against his ribs.

Salah al-din was dark and slightly built. His face was etched with the small, private smile of a man who did not believe his own myth. A sword hung at his hip and a steel cap gleamed half-hidden beneath the folds of his turban. His robes were plain black linen cloth; ordinary enough.

Malik watched as a ring of saffron-clad body-guards encircled Salah al-din and his small entourage. The guards wore scale armour and carried scimitars marked with the sultan's falcon emblem. More soldiers stood on the balconies ringing al-Aqsa's minarets and the rooftops of the shrines. Salah al-din had fought the Assassins before. He knew their ways. There was little point in climbing. 

Malik headed for the arched colonnade of the al-Aqsa mosque as Salah al-din dismounted and turned towards the crowd.

The sultan wore armour beneath sombre robes. A cowl of fine mail hung from his turban. Lamellar plate encased his torso and a mail tunic dangled nearly to his knees. The sword he carried was not merely for show. Malik had no doubt that the sultan would defend himself in need. Salah al-din was no divan commander, but a fully tempered knight.

The sultan prostrated himself before the Dome of the Rock. The crowd gasped at the sight of Islam's sultan in homage before one of Islam's holiest places. As Salah al-din touched his forehead to the well-worn stones a seam of dark cloth gaped beneath his arm. A well-timed thrust would pierce the Sultan's heart. 

Malik saw a flicker of movement beneath the porch of the al-Aqsa as he drew his knife.

He was close enough to smell the sweat of Salah al-din's steed above the rank stench of his own robe; close enough to hear the prayer the sultan whispered under his breath. He could push through the crowd in seconds; cross the flagstones in a heartbeat. Salah al-din's guards would never reach their master in time to save his life.

Malik slipped between the shoulders of the crowd and vanished in the shadows of the colonnade. The assassin shone like a lantern in the gloom beneath the pillars. Malik's bare feet made no sound upon the flagstones. The assassin never heard him approach.

“Go no further,” Malik said quietly as he laid the blade of his knife against the assassin's throat. “Salah al-din is under the protection of the Assassins.”

The man's entire body stiffened. “I am an Assassin,” he hissed. 

His voice was slightly higher than Malik had expected, and he revised his estimate of the Assassin’s age. Not a man. A boy. He glanced down at the Persian’s robe. No. A novice.

“I know all the Assassins at Masyaf,” he said, without loosening his grip, “and you're not one of them. You’re not from here. Where are you from?”

“Alamut,” the assassin said.

“Alamut?” Malik said in surprise. All the Assassins had heard of the Persian castle where the Assassin Order had been founded. 

“Yes, fool,” the Persian snarled. “Kill me and a hundred assassinsshall fight each other for your blood.”

Malik put a little pressure on the blade. The novice hissed in pain. “My name is Malik al-Sayf. I am rafiq of Jerusalem, and you are not welcome here. Need I remind you that you are in my city, and I outrank you? Drop your weapon now and I may not cut your throat.”

The novice did not move. Malik feared the boy would make some foolish gesture, but after a moment he sighed and dropped his dagger. The blade clattered into the shadows as Malik withdrew his own knife. “Turn around.”

The novice spun slowly, spreading his hands wide. The gesture would have been surrender on any other man, but Malik knew any Assassin worth his rank was likely to have at least another three blades hidden in his robes. “How many of you are there?”

“Three. My brother and I, and our master.”

“What was your mission?”

The novice rubbed his neck. “My master ordered me to observe Salah al-din. To move close enough to strike, then report back.”

“A scouting mission? Nothing more?”

The novice nodded.

“Swear that you will stay your blade until I give you leave to use it,” Malik said.

“I swear,” the novice said resentfully.

 “While you are in my city,” Malik said, “you will abide by my rules.”

“They’re not our rules!”

“They are. Unless the Assassins of Alamut have forgotten the Creed as well as their manners?”

The novice flushed. “As you wish.” He half-turned to glance into the courtyard behind him as Salah al-din finished his prayer in light as weak as watered wine. The sultan's mail shirt fell back into place with a whisper.

“Do I have your word?” Malik asked sharply.

The novice turned back. “Yes.”

“See that you keep it. Bring your master to the Bureau later. You'll find our sigil on Pearl Street, in the bookseller's market. Now go, before we draw too much attention and you break the Creed once more.”

The novice turned away and slipped into the courtyard. Malik switched to the Eagle's vision and followed the Persian through the crowd until he passed beneath the entrance to the Temple Mount and out of Malik's view. The sultan raised his voice to speak just as the novice vanished through the gate.

“We have been fortunate,” Salah al-din said. “Four years ago God enabled us to retake Jerusalem, a city lost to us for ninety-one long years. For four years we have pleased God with our worship. We must not allow the Franks to root themselves so strongly once again. We must defend Jerusalem's walls with as much zeal as we claimed them. God has appointed the house of the sons of Ayyub to this task. We must pray that we are worthy of this honour.”

His last word was nearly lost in a clamour of applause and ululation. Malik snorted beneath his breath. The Frankish army still hoped to take Jerusalem. In Malik's professional opinion, Salah al-din's arrival meant the city would be under siege before the year was out.

The sultan regarded the crowd for a moment before he bowed his head to enter the Dome of the Rock. Salah al-din was not tall, or strong, or particularly well-favoured, but Malik could see how a Kurd from the north had managed to command so many men. Even Al Mualim had respected Salah al-din, and the Assassins respected no leaders but their own.

The sultan went from the Dome of the Rock to the House of the Chain, and then to the al-Aqsa mosque for afternoon prayers. Malik waited. The sultan's guards encased him neatly as an olive's meat wrapped its stone. Malik was as good a judge of assassination opportunities as any Assassin he had ever met, and he saw no further openings.

If Salah al-din dies today, he thought, it will not be the Assassins’ doing.

The sun sank towards the horizon. A single blade of sunlight gilded the city walls as Salah al-din left the Temple Mount. The sky darkened to iron. The crowd faded away, leaving debris in its wake; scraps of dirty cloth, almond shells and broken sandals. Malik slipped away as it began to rain, trusting the sultan's guards to protect their master. 

Thirty thousand people inhabited Jerusalem. More refugees arrived each day. The weather had turned awry as the war. The winter this year was savage, as if the conflict extended even to the heavens. The refugees huddled in converted warehouses and makeshift campsites. They worked on the walls, in the markets, anywhere they could find employment, and when that failed they relied upon the city's alms. Jerusalem was full to bursting, but the rain had washed the streets clear. Malik saw few people as he headed back to the Bureau. 

He passed townhouses, caravanserais and shops, all shuttered tight against the rain. Vents set into a bathhouse wall spilled clouds of scented steam into the street. Candles glowed in the narrow windows of the Christian church next door as the sunlight faded to a red thread on the horizon. The evening prayer echoed from the rooftops. The Christian candle-flames flickered as the muezzin's call rose into the sky, reminding Malik of the holy city to which the atheist Assassins were eternally blind. The Muslim prayer call told him nothing but the time, and a church was just a building.

He shook his head and headed home through the alleys of the poor district. Water poured from every spout and drain. Every wall was a cascade; every street a narrow river. The mud-brick tenement walls melted in the rain. Sleet beaded on Malik's sleeves as he ducked beneath the torrents.

He gave the copper dirhams he had collected in the square to a beggar woman sheltering beneath an awning and splashed through the alleys until he reached the booksellers’ street. The lock was cold enough to burn his fingers. The Bureau was warmer than the streets, if barely. Coals glowed in the brazier as Malik lit the lamps.  The flickering flames illuminated a small but comfortable room. Books lined the walls and a half-finished backgammon game rested on the counter beside a jar of white feathers.

Malik heaped charcoal into the brazier. Once the fire was blazing he added a handful of sweet-smelling aloe wood to the fire and went into the courtyard garden. He rinsed charcoal from his hands with water as icy as the snows and tossed a handful of grain to the pigeons in their coop before returning to the Bureau. Inside he exchanged his beggar's rags for the sombre robes of an Assassin rafiq. He stuffed the tattered disguise into the fire where it smouldered, filling the room with foul-smelling smoke. The door opened just as he was fastening his boots.

“I didn't think I'd see you here,” he said.

“I didn't think I could come,” Nusaybah replied.

“Have you much time?”

“An hour or two.” She slipped her soaked shawl from her head and hung it to dry beside the brazier. “Did you find your Assassins?”

“I did,” Malik said. “They weren't from Masyaf.”

She raised one narrow eyebrow. “Should I be concerned?”

Malik shrugged. “I'm not sure.” He set a metal grille across the brazier, poured water into a teapot and added a pinch of tea leaves before setting the pot over the fire to boil. ”Any news?”

“A little,” said Nusaybah, who sold weapons and knew the trade of war as well as Malik did himself. “The sultan's brought fifty stonemasons and two thousand Frankish prisoners to strengthen the city walls. He's promised that he and his sons will haul the stone themselves.”

“I doubt that's true.”

“Salah al-din's not known for breaking his word.” She settled down beside the fire, holding her hands out to the blaze. “He must act soon. His armies have lost ground since Arsuf. They've scorched the earth and poisoned wells, but the Crusaders won't cease.”

“They want Jerusalem,” Malik said. “The sultan fears a siege. Jerusalem's no fortress. You'd need thousands of men to defend these walls.”

Nusaybah combed her hair out with her fingers. Drops of water sizzled on the coals as her hair scattered amber in the lamplight. “There must be twenty thousand soldiers here.” 

“Twenty thousand people.” Malik corrected. “Even Salah al-din can't turn peasants to soldiers. His emirs grumble. Their soldiers are tired.”

Nusaybah's hands stilled. “The further east the Crusaders, the longer their supply lines,” she pointed out. “But if they reach the city-”

“They might win through,” said Malik. “But the Franks can't hold Jerusalem for long.”

Nusaybah's lips tightened. ”That won't matter. Last time they seized the city they killed ten thousand men. Women and children, too. They say their knights ate human flesh.”

“That's a story,” Malik said. “If it comes to a siege, I'll help you leave the city.”

“Where would I go?”

“You'd be safe at Masyaf.”

She laughed. “What would I do there?”

Malik had no idea. “There's a village. You'd avoid a siege.”

She shook her head, eyes dancing with more merriment than he felt the idea deserved. “I've been in Jerusalem half my life, Malik. I know the city. I can be useful here. Today I heard that the sultan wants to buy my weapons. I'm meeting with his representative tomorrow. I'll see what I can discover of his plans.”

Malik shook his head. “You shouldn't take such risks.”

“There's little risk involved,” she said, stirring the pot with one of Malik's knives.  Steam rose towards the ceiling.

“There will be if Salah al-din discovers where the Order found that information.”

“I'll be careful,” Nusaybah flicked droplets of tea from the tip of the knife and set it down to dry near the coals.  “I know you’ll use my information to defend Jerusalem.”  

“The city isn't worth your life.”

“Jerusalem is my life!” she snapped, cheeks flushed from the fire. “I was born here. I've met the people of this city, from the shepherds who tend their flocks outside the walls to the nobles in their palaces. I've seen the Christians kneel before their sepulchre and heard the Jews whisper prayers by their wall. I've knelt in the mosques and sold myself to strangers in the brothels. I swear I'll die here before I run away.”

Malik listened, and feared he would lose her. Fool, he told himself. She's not yours. Nusaybah was married, and it was not the Assassins' way to form attachments. Though the order is not what it was. Perhaps someday...He strangled the thought unspoken. “As you wish.”

Nusaybah glared at him. Malik had a feeling she'd armed herself for a longer argument. Perhaps another man would have forbidden her to risk her life at all, but Malik was an Assassin, and to Assassins the world was a weapon to be used. He was not her husband. He could not forbid her anything.  

“If you wish to risk your life,” he said, “then I of all people cannot stand against you.”

“Then-”

“You must be very careful. Don't ask too many questions. The sultan's men may realize you're searching for information, and-” He paused at the sound of a sandal sole splashing in water outside. “Quiet!”

Nusaybah frowned. The sound of the rain on the roof was loud as the river in flood, but they both heard several sets of footsteps creeping cautiously towards the door of the Bureau. Nusaybah flinched as a heavy knock rattled the hinges.

Malik was on his feet in an instant, reaching for the dagger tucked into his sash. Nusaybah snatched up the knife she had used to stir the tea. She pulled her scarf from the wall, dropped the knife in her lap and draped the fabric across the weapon. Malik glanced down at her. When she nodded, he called “Enter,”

The door opened slowly. One man entered, then two, then three; Assassin whites pale against the midnight darkness of the street. Their cowls were pulled down to conceal their faces.

“Greetings, brothers,” Malik said as the oil lamp flickered in the breeze. “Identify yourselves.”

The first man drew back his cowl. “I am Harun,” he said, “dai of Alamut.” He was perhaps ten years older than Malik, an advanced age for an Assassin. “Safety and peace.” He nodded behind him. “This is Ali. I hear you have already met Ismail.”

The novice nodded sullenly. The boys were alike as brothers, and they watched Malik from beneath their cowls with expressions of identical resentment.

Malik let his hand slip from his knife. “Safety and peace,” he said. “This city has neither. Close the door quickly before someone sees you.”

Nusaybah set her knife down by the fire and wrapped her scarf around her head, folding the fabric with fingers precise as daggers. “Safety and peace, brothers,” she said, rising with a graceful sway that set her earrings chiming. “I regret that I must go.”

“It's too dangerous for you to walk these streets alone,” Malik objected. Safety had always been relative inside the city's walls, but the crowds made the streets more perilous than ever. 

“My retainers are waiting.” 

Malik smiled despite himself. “Safety and peace,” he called after her, and heard her answering farewell.

Once he had made certain she had left safely he closed and locked the door behind her and turned to the Assassins. Unwelcome or not, invited or not, the Persians were guests and Malik did what he could to make them comfortable. He unrolled rugs on the Bureau's floor, fetched dishes of bread and olives and poured the tea, wishing that he had some novices to do the work for him. He'd brewed the tea for far too long. The liquid was both weak and bitter. Malik drained his glass quickly, glad for once that the symbolism of the act was more important than the taste.

He set his cup down by the fire and said “Peace be with you. I am Malik, rafiq of Masyaf. My Bureau is yours for as long as you are in the city.”

Harun inclined his head. “I thank you,” he said. “As do my companions.” He waved a hand towards the novices, who had settled down against the wall on the opposite side of the room where they had a good view of both doors. The boys frowned at Malik. They did not drink.

“You've travelled far,” Malik said. “Perhaps you would explain to me exactly why you're here.”

“We bring a message,” said Harun. “From our master Nur al-din at Alamut.”

“We use pigeons for messages,” Malik countered.

“The birds we sent did not return.”

“Unfortunate,” said Malik. He was well aware that Alamut had sent message birds, and equally certain Altaïr had ignored them. Alamut was far from Masyaf, and Altaïr had more immediate problems. 

“Indeed,” Harun said. “There have been rumours of trouble at Masyaf. We've heard that Al Mualim died.”

Malik nodded. “Death comes to us all,” he said.

Harun sipped his tea heroically. “How did Al Mualim meet his end?” 

Malik, who knew exactly how Al Mualim had died and had many reasons for hiding the truth from Alamut, said nothing. The coals popped and crackled. Smoke curled up to the rafters like the prayers of the faithful.  When the silence had dragged on for far too long he said “He was old. He died. It happens.”

Harun set his cup down on the carpet. “There were rumours he was murdered.”

“That's not true.” The truth is stranger.

“Then what happened?” 

Malik chose his words as carefully as blades. “I'm not entirely sure.” He dared not lie outright, but he might stretch the truth. “You must forgive me. Al Mualim raised me to rafiq barely a month before his death.”

“I'm sure he had his reasons,” Harun said. “But you must have heard something. What do you suspect?”

The novices watched Malik with silent accusation. He sighed theatrically. “The Old Man went mad.”

“Mad?” Harun's eyes widened slightly. The mad were holy, but it was shameful for a man of such stature to go insane. 

“Yes,” Malik said. “He was very old, and he seldom left Masyaf. Spent all his time with his books. It's really no surprise.”

One of the novices said something below his breath to the other. Harun snapped something that Malik could not follow and the novices fell silent instantly. Malik wondered if they suspected he was lying. It mattered little.  The Assassins were a hierarchy, and Malik was superior in rank. The Persians were bound to take Malik's explanation at face value. It's not a complete lie, he thought. Nobody who witnessed what happened at Masyaf could argue that the Old Man went mad before he died. “More tea?”

Harun shook his head. “So Masyaf is without a leader?”

“Al Mualim named no successor.” Malik said, studying the tiles on the floor as if the pattern held special meaning. “But Masyaf has a leader.”

“One not sanctioned by the Order.” Harun said disapprovingly.

“Altaïr was Al Mualim's best student. He leads the Masyaf Order in the absence of a more suitable candidate. If you wish to speak with him you'll have to travel to the castle.” It wasn't far from Jerusalem to Masyaf, but the weather was bad, the roads were worse and the Arab and Crusader armies had both laid waste to the countryside. “You'd have done better to go there directly.”

“The Jerusalem road was safer, “Harun said. “You understand.”

Malik did. Only an idiot would travel to an Assassin fortress without first knowing where the castle's loyalties lay. “Masyaf isn't far,” he said. “I can provide you with maps. Send word of your arrival. Three days should give me time for a response.” Assuming Altaïr is prompt in his reply. Which I doubt.

“We'll wait,” Harun agreed.

“You're welcome to rest here,” Malik said. He suspected that the Persians wished to share the Bureau with him about as much as he wished to share it with them. His suspicions were proved correct when Harun said “Thank you for your offer. But there isn't much room, so we'll find our own quarters.”

“You'll find men sympathetic to our cause in the poor district. But take care. Salah al-din is well guarded, and his guards are very watchful.”

“We'll have no trouble,” Harun said. “Anything more?”

“One more thing before you go.” Malik said. He set the cups out again, and poured another round of tea. The pot was still warm, but the delay had done nothing for the liquid's flavour. He nodded to Ismail. “Your novice told me that his mission was only to observe. Nevertheless, I’d like to make it clear that Salah al-din’s no Assassin target.”

 “The sultan's a remarkable man.” Harun agreed, lifting his cup. “We've heard of his triumphs even in Persia. Whenever the Muslim world unites, men become less tolerant of heresy. Once the sultan has dealt with the Franks, he'll turn to the Order.”

“That may be true,” Malik admitted. “But we don't wish to find these lands beneath Crusader rule. Assassination doesn't work as well for Franks. When you kill one another takes his place. Salah al-din's the thread that weaves the Muslim states together. He's a good ruler, but we've given him little cause to love the Assassins. Once the Franks are gone he must have no reason to attack us. “

 “They say you killed his regent.”

“His regent was corrupt.” Malik did not feel like explaining the circumstances of Majd Addin's death to these foreigners. “Salah al-din is not a target.”

“Then we’ll wait for word from Masyaf,” Harun said. “Will I find you here?”

Malik shrugged. ”Sometimes I walk the city,” he said. He had no intention of caging himself in the Bureau, despite the weather. “I won't be far away.”

“Then we'll meet later, brother.” Harun rose, gesturing to his novices.Thank you for your hospitality.”

“My pleasure,” Malik said. The novices followed in Harun's wake as he walked to the door. The rain outside had turned to sleet. Wind whistled down the streets straight from the mountains, tugging at awnings, slamming shutters, and snatching the Assassins' hoods from their heads as they strode outside.

Malik knew they would return. He'd expected other Orders to question Sinan's death, but he hadn't expected them to come so soon. He doubted that Altaïr had considered the question at all. They'd killed Al Mualim and locked away the Apple, but they hadn't thought too long on what might happen after.

This, he thought as he closed and locked the door. The cold crept in, settling in the livid knot of scar tissue where his left arm ended just above the elbow. He rubbed at the scar with his right hand as he searched the Bureau desk for a block of ink. Once he found it, he used a spoonful of discarded tea to mix the liquid and sharpened a reed pen with his knife.  

 Altaïr, he wrote.

The Crusaders approach Jerusalem as Salah al-din prepares the city for a siege. The sultan's guards are everywhere. They make my task no easier, but they keep the sultan safe-for now.

Three Assassins have come from Alamut to ask me how Al Mualim died. I told them the Old Man was mad and died from illness, but their true purpose troubles me. I found one novice in the square, stalking the sultan as he knelt at prayer. The man protests he meant no harm, but I am not sure I believe him. They seek permission to travel to Masyaf. Grant it if you will. I fear they will not wait for long.

He paused to gather his thoughts before he wrote the closing line.

You tasked me with doing what needs to be done, in order to set things right. How am I to do that with what we can spare?

Safety and peace.

 

Author’s Note:

Have to admit I tweaked the timeline in this a bit. Salah al-din came to Jerusalem a month later, in mid-December 1191. However this story takes place a month or so before my fic Favour of Heaven, and Favour of Heaven begins at Masyaf in mid-December.

The winter of 1191 was notorious for its unusually bad weather.

Salah al-din/Saladin’s personal name was Yusuf. ‘Salah al-din’ is a laqab, or nickname, which means ‘Righteousness of the Faith.’

Eh, Malik and Nusaybah have an interesting relationship. This story’s evolved quite a bit since I started writing. Maybe I’ll go into that another time.