In their place was William of Tyre. He handed a goblet of red wine to Balian. “It seems the word has gotten out.”
“But I didn’t—”
“Of course, not. You had no interest in naming the devil—not to mention that after eight months, I know you too well to think you might be careless or foolish in a matter like this. No, someone else is behind this.”
“Don’t be naïve. Baldwin has been sequestered for twenty months. There was much speculation at first, and then the rumors died down. People accepted that Baldwin was ill. The fact that it has bubbled up now is not accidental. So, who has an interest in this?” As he spoke, his eyes scanned the room over the rim of his silver chalice.
“How could anyone inside the kingdom benefit from saying the heir to the throne has an incurable and debilitating disease? Our enemies, surely, but not our people.”
“If Baldwin is known to have leprosy, he can be removed from the succession to the throne,” Tyre answered pointedly. “There are two people with an obvious interest in that. The queen, of course, who—God willing—may soon have a son of her own.”
“Surely not the Queen!” Balian blurted out, speaking before thinking. On second thought, what Tyre said was reasonable. Any woman would surely want her own child to succeed to power. Yet, he could not reconcile maliciousness with the young woman who had so spontaneously flung open her arms to Baldwin. He had caught a glimpse of something behind the formal façade on display at the royal court. He had seen a young woman as lonely as Baldwin himself. To Tyre, he said simply, “The Queen has known—or suspected—for months. Why would she leak the rumor now?”
“Good point,” Tyre agreed, “which brings us to the second candidate: Princess Sibylla’s bridegroom.”
“What did you say? Sibylla’s bridegroom? But the princess is barely twelve and hasn’t set foot out of the convent for half a decade. How can she have a bridegroom no one has heard of?”
“Not quite no one, Sir Balian. The High Court sent my archbishop to France a year ago to find a candidate.” With his chalice, Tyre indicated a large knight in opulent robes standing not far from them. The unfamiliar knight’s face was flushed with wine, and his expression sneering. Tyre narrated to Balian, “Meet Sir Stephen of Sancerre. His sister is Louis of France’s third wife, while both his brothers have married Louis’ daughters by the Duchess of Aquitaine.”
“I’m not an expert in canon law,” Balian noted dryly, “but that sounds somewhat incestuous to me.”
Tyre laughed appreciatively before noting: “Indeed, but such is France.”
“And he is Sibylla’s bridegroom?” Balian still couldn’t believe it.
“The king and High Court fear Baldwin might not reach the age of maturity or that, even if he should, he might be too ill to rule. It seemed wise to secure a suitable husband for Sibylla sooner rather than later—just in case. So, they sent to Europe for a suitable candidate. King Louis sent back Sancerre.”
“I see,” Balian took another look at the Frenchman, who might one day be his king.
Tyre spoke into his ear while following his gaze. “Sancerre has every reason to want people to know what afflicts Baldwin. That way, even if Baldwin lives another fifty years, no one will want to see him crowned king. He’ll be forced to join the Brothers of St. Lazarus, and the crown will go instead to said nobleman—unless, of course, our Greek queen produces a male heir. The chances of that, however, are at best, 50/50. She’s healthy but young. She might miscarry, she did once before, you know. Or she might simply die in childbirth. Or she might have a girl. Or a boy child that does not survive infancy, or dies in an accident while growing up, or, who knows, contracts leprosy. No one should count their sons until they are grown. All in all, Sancerre has a fair chance of becoming King of Jerusalem.”
“Of course,” Balian agreed, looking again at the Frenchman with a growing if irrational, resentment. In the eight months in Baldwin’s service, the prince had shown intelligence, determination, tenacity, and courage. Despite his severe handicap, Baldwin had gotten up after each fall. He had come far, not only because he was determined, but because he was also extremely sensitive. It was as if other senses in his body compensated for his numb arm and fingers. Balian had fallen under the boy’s unique spell and did not like the thought of him being pushed aside. It was bad enough that he was segregated and denied friends; no one should take away his status and his future too.
“That is,” Tyre continued in his calm, analytical voice, “of course, presuming Sancerre goes through with the betrothal.”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“Why not, indeed? Yet I have heard that he is not as pleased as one would expect. Does that look like the face of a happy man?” Tyre again indicated the Frenchman scowling at the constable, Humphrey de Toron. Balian had to agree. He looked remarkably disgruntled for a man being offered a kingdom on a silver platter—provided, of course, that his future brother-in-law indeed had leprosy, and the queen failed to produce a son. Balian found himself hoping the queen would indeed bear a son. If Baldwin had to surrender his throne, he’d rather see it go to a child of Queen Maria with the blood of emperors in his veins than to this arrogant Frenchman.
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