King Richard was housed in the Templar commandery, and he had taken advantage of the baths. He was freshly washed, glowing from the scrubbing down and smelling of balsam oil, when Ibelin was admitted. His hair had grown back surprisingly thick and curly after he’d lost it to Arnoldia, and it shimmered in the candlelight, his still-wet beard glistening. He had removed his chain mail and was dressed only in shirt, hose, and a surcoat with exquisite embroidery. “My lord of Ibelin. Welcome.” he opened in a firm voice that was neither loud nor soft. “Join me.” He indicated a table with a magnificent mosaic surface, the work of Greek craftsmen.
Ibelin bowed his head first, then cautiously took the chair indicated.
“I have to admit, I wasn’t sure you would rejoin the army after you left us in October,” Richard opened.
“I wasn’t sure I would be welcomed back,” Ibelin countered.
Richard raised his eyebrows and looked at him sidelong. “Why not?”
“‘There goes Balian d’Ibelin, as treacherous as a gobelin.’” Ibelin quoted simply.
Richard snorted and shrugged. “Toron made no secret that you were negotiating with Salah al-Din on Montferrat’s behalf. It didn’t go down well with my men.”
“Why is it all right for you to negotiate and not Montferrat?” Ibelin asked.
“Because Montferrat represents no one but himself!” the Lionheart snapped back, adding in a calmer tone, “While I am trying to make a deal that would secure the Holy Land for Christ.”
“By marrying your sister to al-Adil?” Ibelin’s tone was carefully moderate. He didn’t want to sound outright mocking—it was rarely wise to mock a king—but nevertheless he wanted to express his skepticism.
The King of England was taken off guard. He had attempted to keep the terms of that particular proposal very secret, especially after his sister suggested to him that it was all a joke and a ruse. “How did you hear about that?” he asked sharply.
“Al-Adil was rather pleased with himself for coming up with proposal; he made no secret of it. Sidon heard of it directly from him.”
“Then he was serious?” King Richard found himself asking, his eyes watching Ibelin alertly.
“I’m sure he would have been very pleased to be made King of Jerusalem, with all the land previously held by the Frankish kings. Your sister, on the other hand, would have found herself imprisoned in a harem or simply discarded the moment you sailed away. It would have been a perfect, bloodless way for the Saracens to win the war, reclaim all the territory you have reconquered, get rid of you and the crusaders, and insult you into the bargain.”
“What do you mean, insult me?”
“A woman’s male relatives are always dishonored when she is repudiated by her husband, because in the Muslim tradition the woman is always to blame for any marital discord. In short, the Queen of Sicily would have been publicly declared unworthy of al-Adil, and you would have been the laughingstock of the entire Muslim world.”
King Richard was slowly flushing with anger as he grasped the magnitude of the hoax they had been playing on him. “Then it is well done,” he said in a tight voice, “that I said I needed papal approval for the match—unless al-Adil converted to Christianity.”
“Yes, that should put an end to the proposal,” Ibelin agreed steadily. “Al-Adil is no more likely to convert to Christianity than you are to Islam.”
“Let us return to your own negotiations, then. You were there on behalf of Montferrat—which is damned near treason to the Christian cause!” The English King’s tone had turned belligerent.
“He proposed falling on my flank and fighting his fellow Christians!” the Lionheart snarled.
“Not when I was representing him,” Ibelin faced the Lionheart down.
“I refused to deliver that message because I could not support it. If we could have secured peace in the north, and then concentrated our forces in the south, then it would have been a peace worth making.”
They stared at one another, measuring each other. The Plantagenet broke eye contact first. He helped himself to some of the nuts in a bowl on the table, then looked again at Ibelin. “And what of this proposal that I be crowned King of Jerusalem? Are you serious about it?”
“Would any of the other poulain lords support you?” King Richard asked next.
“Maybe. Probably,” Ibelin revised his answer.
“But you agree that an attack on Jerusalem at this time is pointless?”
“It was madness to even make an attempt in winter,” Ibelin countered. He added, “I thought you understood that when you argued at Acre that we had no more time to wait on Salah al-Din. You justified the slaughter of the hostages in part because we needed to start the attack on Jerusalem during the campaign season.”
“You have no idea the pressure the French have put on me,” King Richard answered in an exasperated tone. The mere thought of the French made him so agitated that he sprang to his feet and began pacing. “I tried to convince them we should use the winter to secure and rebuild Ascalon. In fact, I tried to convince them that the key to Jerusalem lies in Cairo! If we attacked Cairo, we would force Salah al-Din to abandon Palestine altogether and concentrate his forces in defense of his capital. If we could do enough damage in Egypt, he might even be forced into a treaty that acknowledged our right to Jerusalem and all the lands west of the Jordan for eternity!” King Richard explained his idea forcefully.
“King Amalric used to argue the same thing,” Ibelin pointed out coolly. “He made four attempts, you know, and he had the backing of the Greek Emperor and his fleet. Egypt is not easy to conquer.”
The Plantagenet looked over at Ibelin with slightly narrowed eyes.
“Yes, my lord King,” Ibelin answered the unspoken question. “You are a far better general and a better leader of men than King Amalric. That is the reason I would gladly kneel in fealty to you as King of Jerusalem. But be warned, capturing Egypt is far more difficult than it looks.”
“So is capturing Jerusalem. Sablé told me your assessment of our chances.”
“My lord King, if I could hold it for nearly ten days with nothing but women, priests, and newly knighted youths, how long do you think the Sultan can hold it with five thousand battle-hardened Mamluks—and no refugees clogging the streets and eating the rations?”
“Don’t misunderstand me,” King Richard assured him. “I share your assessment completely! That’s why I suggested taking Ascalon instead.” He paused, his eyes considering his guest alertly, and then conceded, “We have much in common, you and I. At least we see the situation here in very similar ways. You certainly understand— unlike the damned Duke of Burgundy—that we can’t win by force of arms alone. We have to negotiate! By God! Anything we can gain without bloodshed is worth twice what we win with men’s lives!” He paused and then asked bluntly, “What do you think of Toron as a negotiator?”
“He was in Saracen captivity for roughly two years and in that time became very close to Imad ad-Din.”
The King of England started. Why hadn’t anyone else told him that? “Are you saying he is in the Sultan’s pay?”
“Many of us have suspicions. Some of the barons held captive with him even accuse him of converting.”
“No! That’s not possible!” King Richard protested. “I’ve seen him go to Mass.”
“And he drinks wine. I do not think he is a secret Muslim, nor in Salah al-Din’s pay. But a man without a backbone makes a poor negotiator, my lord King. He’s easily persuaded by whomever he is talking to, and he doesn’t know how to call a man’s bluff or when to take a stand. Or perhaps he knows when to take a stand, but no one takes his ‘stand’ seriously.”
“You stole his wife from him,” King Richard noted pointedly.
“First, she was not his wife, as she’d been forced into a marriage before the age of consent. Second, he failed to consummate the fraudulent marriage. And third and most important, he failed to fight for his wife’s right and title to Jerusalem. I can’t imagine your father failing to support his wife’s claim to Aquitaine, can you?”
The Plantagenet burst out laughing. “My father not press his claim to anything he had a ghost of a right to? He would have taken holy orders first! Not to mention that had he failed to press my mother’s claim to Aquitaine, she would have skinned him alive.” He laughed again at the thought.
“Isabella is the rightful Queen of Jerusalem—and Toron, who claimed to be her husband, did homage to Guy de Lusignan.”
“But you, my lord, are ready to abandon her and her claim,” King Richard shot back.
“You don’t seem to fully understand me, my lord King.”
“Perhaps not. Explain yourself.”
“I am fighting for Jerusalem—not just for the city or the Kingdom, but for the people, too, for the Christians who lived here and made it a prosperous land, a land of milk and honey and also of art and knowledge. I will support whatever solution offers the greatest prospect of survival—sustainable survival, in freedom and Christianity—for Jerusalem’s people. Lusignan squandered his right to be King because he lost the Kingdom once already, and Toron gave Lusignan the chance to lose the Kingdom by failing to support his wife in the first place. Montferrat, on the other hand, seemed like a better alternative—but I will admit to you, I have been sorely disillusioned by him on many counts but most especially his latest offer to Salah al-Din. He is, as you said, far more interested in his own position than in Jerusalem or its people. So, what is left? A man who comes from the same House as the last five monarchs of Jerusalem. A man who has already conquered the strategic ports of Acre and Jaffa. A man who can fight Salah al-Din to a standstill. A man who, indeed, grasps the essential elements of warfare against the Saracens in this environment. I trust you to recapture the rest of the Kingdom and then to hold it—but not in a few months. Regaining the Kingdom will take years. You can restore the Kingdom to its former glory and more—but only if you are willing to take up the burden and stay here the rest of your life.”
“Sacrifice the Angevin empire my father built for Jerusalem?” Richard Plantagenet asked intently, his face flushed and his eyes burning.
“Yes. For the Holy Land.”
There was tense silence in the little room, and they could hear rain splattering on the shutters over the windows.
King Richard broke the tension. He nodded. “I will think about it, but it is not an easy choice. Not for me. I love Aquitaine, and I have spent the better part of my adult life fighting for it. I need to think—and pray. Meanwhile, tomorrow I will call a council of all the leaders to discuss our current situation. Master de Sablé has agreed to recommend withdrawal to the coast. Can I count on you backing him, my lord?”
“You can count on me, your grace,” Ibelin assured him.
King Richard smiled. “Thank you.” He held out his hand in a gesture of friendship and respect.
Ibelin hesitated for only a second, and then accepted it with a smile of his own.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish