Destiny will not wait. At last, the final confrontation between East and West, Sacarcen and Crusader, is about to take place. The awesome magic of one civilization will be pitted against the unslaked thirst for conquest of its rival.
Daoud ibn Abdullah, the fair-haired spy and assassin known as the White Emir from the palaces of Cairo, will have his long-anticipated duel with Simon de Gobignon, the young French count entrusted with the guardianship of King and Pope. And Sophia, the beautiful courtesan richly trained in the arts of both love and treachery, must make her agonizing choice between the two warriors, a choice whose consequences will go dangerously beyond the hungers of the heart, or of life and death itself...
Daoud drifted in and out of consciousness for two days after the fight at the Monaldeschi palace. Sleeping was much better than being awake and remembering failure.
In dreams he rode once again with his khushdashiya, his brother Mamelukes.
A yellow silk banner rippled in the breeze before them, declaring, WAGE WAR UTTERLY ON THE IDOLATORS, AS THEY WAGE WAR UTTERLY ON YOU.
Dust clouds swirled around them as they thundered down upon a row of Frankish knights. From a distance Daoud sent bolt after bolt from his compound bow whistling into the dark line of mail-clad men. He saw men clutch at their throats and topple from the saddle.
Screaming, he charged into the midst of the Franks, whirling his saif over his head, his lance in his left hand. A knight galloped into his path, holding up a shield white as an eggshell, emblazoned with a red cross. Daoud brought the saif down, and the knight raised his shield to fend off the blow. That left the crusader momentarily blind, and Daoud thrust under the shield with his lance.
The lance went in as if the knight wore no mail. As the Frank fell backward from his horse, Daoud saw that it was Simon de Gobignon.
Sophia’s light touch on his shoulder woke Daoud. He was lying on his stomach. He propped himself up on his elbows and saw the glowing, diamond-shaped windowpanes and the familiar white walls of his room on the upper floor of Cardinal Ugolini’s mansion. He turned his head to look at Sophia. Her dark eyes comforted him.
“Time for your poultice,” she said.
He tried to smile at her. “And something to drink. My mouth tastes dry and foul.”
“By the Archangel, no! The juice of oranges, and later kaviyeh.”
Sophia laughed. “Oranges? In April? You must be dreaming. Trees do not bear fruit all year round in this part of the world, David. Your bitter beverage I can supply. But let me see to your wound first.” She raised the blanket that covered his body. He felt his skin grow hot from scalp to toes. She was gazing upon his nude body. He was glad he was lying on his stomach rather than on his back.
Did his nakedness mean anything to her? Among Christians, he knew, men and women often saw each other naked. Not only did women go through the streets with their faces uncovered, but in warm weather the common folk, men and women both, walked to the public baths with barely a bit of cloth wrapped around their loins. And all Christians slept naked. When Sophia saw his body like this, was it just another unclothed body, like the many she had doubtless seen in her lifetime? Did she feel any embarrassment? Or desire? As for himself, his sense of helplessness made him feel only embarrassed, nothing more.
He turned his head again to look at her. She was intent on administering the poultice, and that doubtless took her mind off his nakedness. She had lifted off the old cloth, stained an ugly yellow-brown, and dropped it to the floor. He got a glimpse of the wound, a red slit about half a finger’s length with black knots of thread in it in the back of his right leg, halfway between knee and buttock. Gently she patted and stroked on the wound a paste made of ground rose petals, lime water, and egg white, the Sufi remedy he had taught her to make.
Lorenzo had used his knife to open the hole made by the arrow so that he would not tear Daoud’s flesh pulling the barbed head out. While Lorenzo worked over him, Daoud drew upon Saadi’s final teaching to him to defend himself against the pain. In his mind he began to create the drug called Soma. He envisioned it as a bowl of glowing, silver-colored liquid, and he believed it could form a capsule around any part of his body where there was pain and wall it off from the rest of himself, at the same time filling him with a feeling of well being.