The bustling souk is far removed from the cool
arabesqued sanctity of the Lesser Western Palace.
Beyond the great walls of Cairo, the Fifth Crusade
affronts the young Caliphate. Tents line the Nile.
al-Malik al-Kamil Naser ad-Din Abu al-Ma'ali Muhammad
in full, the fourth Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt,
nephew of Saladin, called Meledin by the infidel,
strokes his beard thoughtfully with a bejewelled
hand that is as comfortable with a book as a sword.
He studies these captives that sought out his army
begging to be taken prisoner in the Sultan’s name.
They are not mad as his Serene Highness had suspected,
though it was well known whosoever should bring
him a Christian head should receive coin of
Byzantine gold. The bedraggled pair stand, tonsured
and out of place amid the splendour, barefoot in sackcloth.
Had the Franks sent them to negotiate?
Had he not twice offered their Pope Jerusalem, the third
holiest city, only to be twice refused? Save only
the Dome of the Rock, al-Aqsa, and for the Jews
the neighbourhood of the Temple. Anything to spare
besieged Damietta withering behind its walls.
The quiet one is clearly a sheep, used to being led
by stronger wills, but the other one, this Faransis
that does all the talking, he has a look in his eye
al-Kamil recognises; it borders on the imperious
despite the rags. He addresses his Highness
with scandalous familiarity that sets the eunuchs chattering:
“May the Lord give you peace.” The Sultan’s hands
are tied, for the Noble Qur’an commands:
Say not to those who greet you with peace,
“You are not a believer,” and: When you are greeted,
greet in return with what is better than it, or at least equally.
“Are you ambassadors?” He replies though his interpreter.
“We are ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ,”
says the Assisiani, come to either convert the heathen
or embrace martyrdom (for him a win-win situation),
and begins to preach. Boniface would have us believe
the two became bosom friends, Francis and the Sultan,
both men of a similar age, both wishing for peace
between their worlds, that the Christian Sufi
learned the Adhan from a Muezzin and the Great Sultan
showered the saint with treasure of which Francis
would only accept an ivory horn
used to call the people to prayer, but really
as the leader of the civilized world, al-Kamil did
what any gentleman does when an uninvited guest
boorishly crashes the party: he politely asked the monks
to leave and gave them something for their trouble.