“What are your plans now, Madame? Do you want to return to Acre and your brother’s household?”
“No. Certainly not,” Eschiva declared decisively. “I inherited large estates here in Cyprus from my mother, Burgundia de Lusignan. The Montaigus ‘solicitously’ assumed the management of them after my marriage, but I intend to take control of them myself. I will demand an accounting of all my properties, and I think it is time to visit each and every one. Zach will be happy to escort us.”
“Oh!” Cecilia brightened at once. “That sounds very exciting!” Then she paused, put her hand to her lips, and asked timidly, “But, well, mightn’t it be dangerous? I mean the baillies still hold half the island. At least that’s what I heard.”
The reaction, Eschiva thought, was very typical of Cecilia. She had an adventurous spirit, but it had been so slapped down and imprisoned by her protective father that she had learned to curb her desires. She always checked her enthusiasm before anyone else told her off.
Eschiva patiently explained to Cecilia, “The baillies are trapped in the mountain castles and Kyrenia, where they are surrounded and besieged by the Ibelins. We will avoid going too near the sieges.” Mentally she added, however, that that did not exclude visiting a manor, if she had one, near St. Hilarion. Balian had managed to mention he was bound for the siege of St. Hilarion during his brief moment with her at the banquet.
Cecilia, encouraged, brightened instantly. “So we can still travel? That will be fun!”
Eschiva laughed. “I’m not sure how fun it will be, Cecilia. It will probably be quite exhausting, and we may find ourselves sleeping in all sorts of unexpected places since most of my estates have been neglected during my minority. I doubt any of them have accommodations fit for ladies. We may well have to sleep fully clothed on pallets in halls, and wash in cold water much of the time. Not to mention stopping at local inns and monasteries along the way and eating local food.”
“I think that sounds wonderful, Madame! Maurizio used to tell me about traveling—all the strange and exotic places he’d been to. I so wanted to travel with him!”
“Yes, well traveling by sea is considerably more comfortable than what we will be doing. And as for exotic, we won’t be leaving Cyprus.”
“Madame?” Cecilia’s voice had changed, and she was measuring Eschiva thoughtfully.
“What about Sir Balian?” Cecilia didn’t dare look at her directly as she asked this, but she looked at her sidelong with a tentative smile on her face—a smile waiting to burst into something more radiant.
“What about him?” Eschiva asked back with a pretense of innocence.
“He—he seems—or you seemed—it was his life that you feared for, was it not?” Cecilia asked puzzled.
Eschiva nodded and conceded, “Yes, it was. Ever since he rescued me from Frederick Hohenstaufen, we have been deep friends. There is no one on earth that I love more than Sir Balian.”
Cecilia brightened. “Will you marry him now that you are a widow?”
Eschiva shook her head. “I cannot see the future, Cecilia. I think Sir Balian may want that, but I cannot be sure. We are cousins, after all, related within the prohibited degrees. Marriage would require a papal dispensation.”
“Oh.” Cecilia was clearly disappointed. “But you—you seem different. I mean, I know your mourning for your husband is only formal, but—if you don’t know for sure about Sir Balian – what makes you so optimistic?”
“Is it that obvious?” Eschiva quipped back. “I must be sure to wear my veils over my face!”
“But, what is it, Madame?”
“I’m free. For the first time in my life, I am really and truly free. I am no one’s daughter, sister, or wife. I am master of my own destiny. Unlike you, Cecilia, I am a rich widow. I don’t yet know exactly what my income is, but I soon will. Tomorrow, I will ask the Archbishop to return control of my estates to me. There’s no reason why he should deny me what is mine, now that Gerard is dead and buried.”
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