Barry sank into an armchair and stretched out his long legs, crossing them at the ankles. It was late afternoon, and the sun was low in the sky, spilling warm light into the room. Balian walked to the window niche facing west and looked out. He noticed that between the long shadows of the olive trees, bright yellow wildflowers lit up the view. Hugh had always loved them. For such a hard fighting man, he’d had a keen eye for beauty—not the beauty of embroidered silks or damascened scabbards like Barry—but a love for the beauty of the earth itself. He had loved Ibelin.
“So,” Barry declared from behind him, evidently intent on opening a conversation. Reluctantly Balian turned to face his brother, dreading a showdown of some sort, an accounting of all he’d done “wrong” in the last ten days. He recalled Hugh’s words about not doubting his own worth and stood upright without leaving the window niche, prepared to weather whatever blows Barry delivered.
“So,” Barry repeated and continued, “we’ll be heading back to Ramla tomorrow or the next day. No point in staying here any longer. It’s much more comfortable at Ramla.”
That said it all, Balian thought, Ramla was “more comfortable.” Ibelin was just a functional rectangle with four corner towers and a barbican, but it was immanently defensible. Ramla was an indefensible town; Ibelin a border fortress. Ramla was a commercial center at a busy crossroads, cosmopolitan, green with gardens and soft with luxury, the new face of the ancient land of milk and honey; Ibelin was Hugh and their father carving out a kingdom in a hostile environment peopled with the ghosts of generations of slaughtered Christians.
“You’ll be fine here on your own, won’t you? As my constable, of course.”
“I’m not a child, Barry.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Barry bristled, oblivious to the condescension in his tone and words.
“It means I’m my own man. Hugh suggested I go to Jerusalem, and I think I will.”
Barry scoffed, “Don’t tell me you have romantic notions about winning fame and fortune by great deeds? Frankly, Balian, you aren’t the type to win a barony with your sword. You’re not ambitious and ruthless enough. Didn’t you once think about a career in the church?”
“Never. That was your idea.”
“Well, it wasn’t such a bad idea. You have the temperament for it: calm, patient, and subtle. I swear you can see three sides of any argument. That’s useful in chancelleries and exchequers. You could undoubtedly rise high. I can picture you a bishop or abbot, mediating and advising, quietly and discreetly from behind the scenes.”
“I thought you just said I wasn’t ruthless and ambitious?”
“Don’t be cynical! Look, I don’t mean to be insulting, and I know you’re quite clever with a bow. Hugh was proud of the way you could hit a target at a gallop. But the last time I saw you joust, you ate sand more often than not.” Balian shrugged. He didn’t care. Baldwin continued, “Besides, nowadays baronies are inherited, not won by the sword. Even in our father’s day, winning a title by the sword took longer than the alternative. Look at my baronies: Ibelin was won by the sword, but Ramla-Mirabel came by marriage. Ibelin owes ten knights to the feudal levee; Ramla-Mirabel owes forty.”
“I’d be content with Ibelin,” Balian shot back.
Barry looked over, surprised, and their eyes locked. At length, Barry warned: “Don’t overreach yourself, Balian. If you prove yourself a good constable, I’ll give you the first available fief, which you can then hold from me.”
“No,” Balian decided, no longer in doubt. “I don’t want to be your constable or your vassal either. I’ll go to Jerusalem as soon as the king returns from Constantinople.”
“As you wish, but don’t come crawling to me if things don’t go according to plan.”
“No, Barry. Never.”
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