The Archdeacon was surprised when shortly after supper, the novice from the Holy Sepulcher, who served as his assistant, announced that a knight had come to see him. “Who did you say he was?”
“He calls himself Sir Balian d’Ibelin.”
“Ibelin?” Tyre frowned in concentration. “Didn’t the title recently pass from Agnes de Courtenay’s husband to the old baron’s other son? The Lord of Ramla, was it?”
“I believe this is his younger brother.”
“Ah. Well. Let me see….” William looked around at the piles of open books spread out around his sitting room, at the stack of parchment imperfectly rubbed clean of old ink that he used for taking notes, at a chipped pottery jug repurposed to hold feathers waiting to be turned into pens, at the penknife surrounded by shavings, and the inkpot surrounded by stains. He concluded this was no place to receive a baron’s brother. “I’ll receive him in my bedchamber,” William announced, and the novice withdrew.
While the visitor was shown into the adjacent bedchamber, William did his best to clean the ink from his fingers. He poured water into a ceramic bowl, wet his hands, and then used a pumice stone rigorously to scrub the stains on his fingers. When the worst stains were fainter, he dried his hands on a linen towel and joined his visitor.
The first thing that struck William about the young knight who stood to greet him was that he was exceptionally tall. This knight had to be at least six feet tall, but not burley. Rather, he was slender without being too thin. Indeed, his whole body was well-proportioned, while his face was tanned and pleasing due to its harmonious proportions, strong brow, and straight nose. Altogether a good-looking young man, William noted to himself, because he had started recording how people looked for his history. William also observed that for the son of a baron, Sir Balian was dressed modestly. He wore brown suede boots that almost disappeared under a long, red cotton tunic with wide, elbow-length sleeves and a slit up the front. The hem, sleeves, slit, and neckline were only modestly trimmed with a ribbon of embroidery. The shirt and hose underneath the tunic were marigold in color, but completely unadorned. The only piece of vanity in the entire ensemble were gold spurs studded with red-enamel crosses paté—the emblem of the House of Ibelin. Aside from his height, William concluded, the most remarkable thing about this young knight was his deep, dark, intelligent eyes.
William extended his hand as he approached his visitor. “Forgive me for receiving you here, sir; my salon is in disarray. I was not expecting anyone. Have we met before?”
“I don’t believe so. I understand you only recently returned from the West?”
“Well, it’s six years ago now, but no matter. I have been in Tyre for the most part, and you, I presume, in Ibelin?”
“Please. Sit down. Has Brother Thomas offered you wine?”
“It’s on its way.”
“Good. So, what can I do for you?” William settled himself on the small wooden chair beside his bed and looked expectantly at Sir Balian.
“His grace, the king, asked me to join his son’s household in the capacity of riding and weapons master.”
The news was so unexpected that William caught his breath. “Ah. Yes. That makes sense, I suppose. The prince will need such instruction. Although, I’m surprised. The king said nothing to me about seeking a man, a knight, to instruct his son. Just what has the king told you about Baldwin’s condition?” William asked.
“Only that he has been ill this past year and is behind in learning the physical skills he will need as our future king.”
“Indeed.” William agreed. When Sir Balian said no more, he asked, “And that is all?”
“He said I should talk to you since, should I accept the position, we would work closely together.”
“I see. So, you have not accepted the position yet?”
“No. I asked to meet the prince before I make a final decision.”
“Wise. Very wise. Thomas? Bring some wine for me as well, would you?”
“At once, sir.”
“Just what is the prince’s illness?” Sir Balian asked, seeing the Archdeacon’s discomfort.
“We do not have a definitive diagnosis. The king talked Abdul Sulayman Dawud into returning from Egypt, but I must admit that, to date, his efforts have not been rewarded with noticeable success. This, unfortunately, would appear to confirm my initial diagnosis. Thank you, Thomas; that will be all.” The novice bowed his head and withdrew. Tyre waited until the door had clunked closed behind him before asking, “Sir Balian, what is your interest in this position?”
“Interest? My brother Hugh, who raised me like his son, died this past spring. My other brother, the Lord of Ramla, has now taken possession of Ibelin. Although he offered to make me Constable of Ibelin, I thought I was too young to simply settle into such a position. I came to Jerusalem in search of opportunity. This was what the king was ready to give.”
“How old are you, sir?”
William nodded. “Do you have any idea why the king thought you might be suited to this particular position?”
“He stressed his son did not ride very well. Perhaps he had heard my brother brag about my mounted archery. Otherwise—” Sir Balian cut himself off because William had already emitted an audible “ah.” “What is it?”
“About a year ago, I noticed that the prince had no feeling in his lower right arm. That is, he feels no pain—even if we pierce him with needles or cut him until he bleeds. That numbness extends now to his hand. He is losing his ability to use it, which is why I am currently making him learn to write with his left hand.”
“I see, so he needs someone who can teach him to ride one-handed,” Sir Balian concluded.
William set his brass goblet down and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. He clasped his hands together as he gazed intently at the young knight opposite him. “Yes. Yes, he certainly needs that, but the problem is the cause of his lameness. Perhaps the good doctor Abdul—who is Christian by the way, in case you were wondering—will find a cause he can treat. In the absence of a diagnosis, however, we must face the fact that the prince may very well be suffering from an incurable disease.” He paused and considered the young knight again. Sir Balian looked concerned, but not unduly so. Tyre continued, “I fear—that is, I believe—he suffers from a disease once known as elephant disease, but now more commonly known as leprosy.”
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