Beauvais was pacing the dais when the Queen of Jerusalem and her mother emerged from the stairwell. He stopped and started slightly, snorting a little to himself at the effectiveness of feminine wiles. The frightened and exhausted girl he had glimpsed upstairs was now a stately young woman encased in dignity and crowned with gold. He had little choice but to bow deeply over her hand. “Madame,” he intoned.
Isabella sank into the central chair on the dais, Conrad’s chair, and indicated that her mother should sit at her left. The Bishop was not offered a seat. Instead, Isabella opened, “You wished to speak to me, my lord Bishop.”
“Indeed. The news of your lord husband’s dastardly murder has shocked us all—none less than the noble Duke of Burgundy. As this is obviously the work of that scoundrel King Richard of England, I have been sent to offer French protection. Even now the French crusaders are on their way to Tyre, so we can take control of its defenses and ensure you are safe from enemies of any sort.”
Beauvais was not a man to pitch his voice low unless he was conspiring or seducing, and he had not bothered to lower his voice to deliver this message. His words, therefore, were heard by more than his intended audience, and behind him in the hall they unleashed a flurry of protest.
“We can defend Tyre without any Frenchmen!” someone shouted. “We’ve defended Tyre longer than you’ve been here!” someone else noted. “We don’t need your damned help!” a third added, while the whole room grew loud with people repeating and commenting on the Bishop’s words.
Isabella was relieved by that reaction. It strengthened her own resolve to resist this offer. “As you can hear, my lord Bishop, we have no need of your aid. Thank the Duke of Burgundy, but tell him to spare the exertion of coming here. We are quite capable of defending ourselves.”
“My lady, with all due respect, you do not understand the military situation—”
Isabella cut him off furiously. “With all due respect, my lord Bishop, I understand the military situation far better than you ever could!” It was bad enough that Conrad had disparaged her opinions when they were in private. She would not tolerate a stranger, a man from France, a bishop, belittling her judgment in front of her subjects. “I was raised here, Monsieur. I lived in the border fortress of Kerak. I was there when it was besieged by Salah ad-Din. I was in Jerusalem when the news of Hattin came; I was here in Tyre during the siege of December 1187. I was with my husband at the siege of Acre! Do not presume to lecture to me just because I am a woman!”
A cheer went up from the men in the hall, loud enough to almost drown out Maria Zoë’s soft, “Well said.” Both gave Isabella courage and she sat straighter than ever, her eyes flashing with righteous indignation.
The Bishop bowed to her in a gesture of mock respect, and then, taking a step closer and looking at her with eyes that were no longer bemused, announced, “Your lord husband held the city of Tyre because my liege King Philip of France granted—”
Isabella didn’t have to answer; the uproar from Conrad’s retainers and admirers was overwhelming. They shouted the Bishop down, reminding him that Montferrat had saved Tyre before the King of France even knew it was threatened. “We saved Tyre!” they told him. “Tyre is ours!”
Isabella waited until the uproar had died down and then told Beauvais, calmly but very firmly, “Tyre is part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, my lord. My kingdom.”
“You don’t seem to understand the danger you are in, my lady. Richard Plantagenet—”
“Has been fighting for and regaining my kingdom, while you and your knights drink and gamble and whore in Acre!” Isabella flung at the Bishop of Beauvais as she got to her feet. She was exhausted and emotionally drained, and she could feel that she was on the brink of losing her self-control completely. Isabella knew herself well enough to know that if she didn’t break off this conversation now, she was likely to start screaming hysterically. She did not want to do that in front of her subjects and Montferrat’s men, so her only option was to depart now—before it happened.
The Bishop sputtered protests and bristled with indignation. “How dare you impute such base—”
“I’ve heard enough!” Isabella cut him off. “I will not surrender Tyre to anyone but the man the High Court chooses as my consort! That was my husband’s dying wish, and nothing will convince me to change my mind or do otherwise!” Then she spun about and strode as fast as she could—without running—to the stairwell. As she disappeared inside, a cheer went up from the men in the hall.
The Bishop of Beauvais was stunned. He had not expected any resistance from Isabella. He had seriously imagined she would fall into his arms in weeping gratitude. He found himself face to face with the Dowager Queen, and she was looking bemused.
“Your daughter is a hysterical young woman,” he told the older woman, hoping to win her sympathy. They had, after all, been allies in removing Isabella from Humphrey and ensuring her marriage to Montferrat. “No doubt being with child has unbalanced her mind.”
Maria Zoë knew her daughter well enough to know that she could indeed appear “hysterical”; she was passionate and spirited, she had thrown terrible temper tantrums as a child, and she had admitted to having violent fights with Conrad. Maria Zoë knew exactly why her daughter had left so precipitously, but she also supported every single word Isabella had said so far and knew that far from being “hysterical,” she was being very wise. It was only her method of delivery that had been somewhat flawed. Because Maria Zoë had been schooled at the court in Constantinople, she knew it would have been better if Isabella had kept her temper under control and had dealt with the Bishop in a more restrained fashion, but none of that diminished her support for her child.
“My lord Bishop,” she opened in a cool, self-possessed tone, “a young widow whose beloved husband died in her arms after being cruelly stabbed to death can certainly be forgiven for being slightly distraught. A bishop and nobleman, on the other hand, with so little sense of propriety—not to mention so little sympathy—as to burst in upon a grieving widow uninvited is . . .” she hesitated long enough to ensure everyone in the room was holding their breath before she delivered the verdict, “a despicable knave. Save your breath!” She held up her hand and cut off Beauvais before he could open his mouth to voice his protests. “Leave aside the manner in which you burst in here and the manner in which my daughter gave you her answer. All that really matters is the substance of what the Queen of Jerusalem just told you.” She paused, made sure the hall was silent with tense anticipation, and then stated firmly and clearly: “She does not need or want your assistance or that of the Duke of Burgundy. Take that message back to Acre.”
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