The glow of the rising moon filtered though the balcony's mashrabiyya while the young man spied on the nearby port. The crusaders had arrived earlier in the day, and the crews of their heavy cogs were still busy unloading arms and supplies. The city had been evacuated, and only he and a few close friends remained behind, lurking in the dark. At twenty six, he'd already earned the skills of a veteran warrior. Tall and with brown hair, he owned a steely blue gaze like many other natives from the banks of the Volga. Being sick in one eye did not detract from his abilities, and few among infidels would guess him a Kipchak Turk and a prominent Mameluke commander.
Baibars counted thirty or forty warships tightly packed in the riverine port, and estimated the crusaders' forces somewhere between ten and twenty thousand well-armed troops. A fire would do well against the ships, but that wasn't the reason for his presence here. He knew the crusaders well from his warring experience in Palestine and Syria. Knights Templar formed the backbone of the infidels' army and, so long as they stood, the Frankish beast would not be vanquished. He had a plan, audacious to a fault if not foolhardy, to instill doubt and fear in the crusaders' minds, God willing. (. . .)
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