The King had removed his royal robes, crown, and mask. He was dressed only in a loose linen kaftan, and two monks were busy at the back of the tent emptying the tub in which he had bathed. In the wake of Ibrahim’s dismissal Baldwin had undertaken a reorganization of his personal staff, and he had readily found several monks who were not only willing but anxious to serve him. Unlike Sir Daniel, they were not men who had themselves suffered from leprosy, but rather penitents who sought salvation through service to the afflicted. The ease with which King Baldwin had found no less than five monks made Ibelin wonder if King Amalric had seriously tried to find Christian servants for his son, or if he had selected Muslim slaves for some reason of his own. It no longer mattered, Balian supposed, but he was gladdened to see Baldwin surrounded by devout Christians, particularly as the King drew daily closer to his grave.
Exposed as the King now was, Balian could see that he had no toes left on either of his feet and that his fingers were completely deformed. The lower part of his chin and face was covered with growths that distorted his face and the nose had started to rot away, while all his hair had fallen out and he was now bald.
“I can see the pity in your eyes, Balian,” Baldwin greeted him. “Would you prefer I wear the mask?”
“No, your grace. You need to breathe freely and feel the fresh air. I will adjust to the sight of you—though it breaks my heart.”
“Yes,” Baldwin nodded, “I knew you would care more for my comfort than your own. The fresh air is indeed welcome after a day in this heat behind the mask. Please, sit beside me.”
Balian took the vacant chair beside his king.
“Do you remember when I came to your relief seven years ago?” Baldwin asked wistfully.
“I do, your grace; that’s exactly what I was thinking about while waiting outside.”
“The whole city was bracing for a siege, and yet they flung the gates open at the sight of my banners, and they cheered and cheered.”
“You were a beautiful sight, your grace, and you rode like a centaur.”
“That was Misty,” the King replied, recalling his destrier of seven years before. “You chose him for me and taught me to ride.”
They were silent for a moment, remembering.
“Tante Marie was gracious to me at Kerak, but do you think she has really forgiven me?”
“You, yes—your mother and sister, no.”
“My mother did not have an easy life,” Baldwin tried to explain. “She was deeply hurt when my father set her aside and took a new wife.”
“She made her own hell, your grace,” Balian countered, “first by treating my brother like dirt because he was not a king, and then by seeking revenge on everyone who she thought had ever slighted her. She alienated half your court.”
“I know that now,” Baldwin admitted with a sigh. “But she is still my mother, and she loves me. Much of what she did, she did for love of me and to protect me.”
Balian wasn’t so sure. He thought Agnes de Courtenay was only interested in protecting her own position at court, but he did not want to offend Baldwin, so he held his tongue.
“I know you disagree, Balian, but she is dying now. I expect to hear word that she has crossed the spiritual Jordan any day now. Her intentions, motives, and soul will be weighed and judged by one more qualified than either of us. I hope you will have the charity to pray for her soul, Balian, but that is between you and your conscience. As for me, I will pay the canons of the Holy Sepulcher to say Masses for her in perpetuity.” He paused, and Balian supposed he would have crossed himself if he had been able to move his hands.
Then taking a deep breath, the King continued. “My sister . . . My sister, on the other hand, has never loved me and does not love me now. She loves first and foremost herself, and then Guy de Lusignan.” With each sentence Baldwin’s bitterness was more pronounced and his voice grew louder, laden with hatred. “She does not even care for her little son, because she would prefer a son by Guy de Lusignan to succeed her.”
“But little Baldwin is already crowned.”
“Do you think that interests my sister? As his mother, she has access to him, and if she has a son by Guy, she will kill my namesake. So far, God in his great wisdom, has given her a girl instead. Still, she will try to rule through my namesake. You and the High Court must expect that and prevent it.”
Baldwin’s bitterness was all the greater because he had loved Sibylla so much, Balian supposed. Now he had turned on her completely, seeing evil intent even where it might not be. Since Balian could not fathom what went on in Sibylla’s head, however, he was not inclined to defend her either. He answered simply, “Yes, your grace.”
“Tomorrow I will declare Ascalon forfeit to the Crown, and then we will strike camp and advance to Jaffa. I will reclaim that for the Crown as well, whether it yields to me or not, and thereby strip Guy de Lusignan of all his titles and fiefs. I will then call the High Court to Acre to discuss the succession.”
“I don’t understand. Your nephew is already crowned.”
“But he’s weak, Balian, very weak, and Sibylla will have control of him. As I just explained, I don’t trust her not to do him harm. Jerusalem needs a new king, a strong king.”
“What are you thinking of, your grace?” Balian asked warily.
“My grandfather, Fulk d’Anjou, was selected from among the nobles of France to rule Jerusalem when Baldwin II had no male heir. So why shouldn’t my cousin, the King of England, who shares the same grandfather as I, send us one of his sons? He has too many, and they make him no end of trouble. Why shouldn’t he send us just one of his sons? I have been told they are all fierce fighting men.”
Balian had never thought of such a radical solution. Although when he thought about it, it was not so radical after all. All the early Kings of Jerusalem had been men from the West, and while some newcomers proved completely incapable of adapting (like Guy de Lusignan), others, like his elder brother Aimery, soon acclimatized and became valuable fighting men and leaders.
“The idea came to me after meeting a most extraordinary English knight,” Baldwin confessed. “His name is William Marshal, and he is very close to my cousin the English King. Marshal has convinced me to send an embassy to my cousin asking for aid. Marshal says King Henry vowed more than ten years ago to come to the aid of Jerusalem and has been setting money aside for that very purpose—only he is beset with rebellions by his sons that keep him at home. To be sure, he is half a century old, so it is his sons who offer greater promise. Young lions all. I have decided to send the Masters of the Temple and the Hospital—and the Patriarch,” Baldwin added with a smile, for though his face was deformed it was still movable. “What do you say, Balian?” In that question was a trace of the youth Balian had once known and mentored, a young man anxious for his approval.
“It is a good scheme, your grace,” Balian assured him. “Out of courtesy, you might send the same ambassadors to the King of France as well.”
“I will send them to the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, Philip of France, and Henry of England. With luck, they will vie with one another for the honor!” Baldwin was clearly excited and inspired by his idea. “I will send the keys to the Tower of David, the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and a banner of Jerusalem with the envoys to make it clear what we are offering. Whichever king takes the keys and the banner and comes to us will be received as our next King. I’ll make the High Court swear to recognize whoever comes.”
Balian saw a thousand problems. Disputes between the Western kings, Western noblemen without any understanding of conditions in the East, and a divided High Court, not to mention Sibylla and Guy’s opposition and the fact that Baldwin V was already crowned—but he didn’t have the heart to discourage Baldwin. Instead, he nodded and said, “It’s worth a try, your grace. Certainly, worth a try.”
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