Baldwin III the Leper, Saladin’s fearsome enemy
Baldwin I and Geoffrey were both old by the time the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was set up. Soon, Baldwin died and passed the throne onto his son Baldwin II. During this time, I rebuilt the army of the Seljuks into 250,000 strong, twice the number of the Crusaders’ army, and trained the army for many years. Now, it was time to face the Crusaders again.
In the Second Crusade, I led my armies out to meet with Baldwin II at Edessa. Like his father and Count Geoffrey, Baldwin was courageous, but he was not wise. He believed in the superiority of the Crusaders and marched out bluntly even against my greater army. Before he could even reach our lines, I ordered the men to spare no arrows and shoot as many into the Crusaders’ line. By the time he reached us, many of his men hath been slain, while others were disheveled and injured. I cut down three of Baldwin’s bodyguards, and soon his line broke.
By noon break, Baldwin had retreated into the fortress of Edessa, but his escape route had already been cut off. I also made sure that our food supplies were well-secured, and all water supplies leading to Edessa was poisoned. Nassur objected against this, for he feared many Muslims would die in the fortress, but I overruled him. “They will be matyrs, Nassur.”
And so, in this manner, Edessa fell, and I exacted revenge for Prince Nizam. Baldwin died as his wounds festered, and the crescent moon once again replaced the crosses in the proud city that was ours once again. Now, it was time to march on Jerusalem itself.
But faith is such a fickle thing, if only because the Almighty desires to test us, for Baldwin’s son, Baldwin III, would succeed him to his throne. The man was said to be outstanding in looks and military virtue when he was young. His father and Count Geoffrey told him of how he would one day conquer the world. But at the early age, Baldwin III was struck by leprosy and had to be covered by an Iron Mask at all times. We called him the Leper.
And yet, despite these deficiencies, his leadership value was no less than mine, and none of his nobles dared to contest his claim to the throne. I met with the Leper at the gates of Jerusalem. While I was disgusted at how he would look inside, I could not help being somewhat charmed by his unique charisma. Nassur and I encircled his army, but after briefly testing our strength, the Leper retreated to his great fortress. We thought we would starve Jerusalem out, but the Leper was not a fool like his father.
He ordered his men to sneak behind our lines and raid our food supplies, burning that which they could not take. Then, in the cloak of night, the Leper led the Crusaders out from Jerusalem and attacked my camp,
burning it to the ground and forcing us to defeat. I retreated to Edessa, and a truce was temporarily established between the two cities.
So my nemesis, Baldwin III the Leper, and I watched each other from across the walls. Neither side being willing to be the besieger, and each granting respect to the other’s skill in war. For two years, this stalemate lasted, but it allowed the Crusaders to increase in strength through trade as Venetian merchants flocked to Jerusalem to buy precious spice from our merchants who travelled to India. Count Geoffrey was dying, but he did not let things be. He travelled back to France, where he recruited his own bastard son Balian to the cause of Jerusalem. Balian was a quick learner, and soon, he was the greatest French swordsman of the East. Despite his background as a mere blacksmith, King Baldwin anointed him Count Balian that he may take the position of his father in days to come. And in this manner did Jerusalem survive.
It was a time of peace. That year in Edessa, Nassur fell in love with my younger sister Aisha (named after my mother), and they were married. From then on, there was greater unity in the army of Edessa, and we vowed that one day, we would together take Jerusalem back, though that day was not today.
But I realized time was on my side, for though the Leper was far younger than I, I realized that people accursed with this disease could not last long. And so, I bided my time and waited for his death. One day a spring after my 30th birthday, a herald came from Jerusalem to tell us that the Leper hath passed away. Nassur and myself took two minutes to observe silence and honor him, for he was a great enemy and one whom I did not overcome in combat. There are many ways to fight a man, and one of them is to simply use time against him.
And when our moment of silence ended, I looked at Nassur solemnly and smiled, “It is time to reclaim the Holy Land, my brother.” And he smiled back, for Nassur, who loved war as much as he loved Aisha, knew that the time for peace hath come to an end.