THE PATRIARCH OF JERUSALEM DROPPED ON his knees and began praying so intently that his knuckles turned white. He banged his head against his clasped hands in distress. It could not be! It simply could not be true!
But the corpse was stretched out on the large, sumptuous bed before him. He had himself heard the gasped confession and administered the last rites. Amalric, King of Jerusalem, only thirty-seven years old and until a week ago apparently in the best of health, was dead.
How could he be stricken down like this? Just when Nur-ad-Din was dead and the Syrians were in disarray. When things had looked so promising for the Kingdom. It was bad enough that the attempt to seize Banias had failed; why must the King then drink dirty water on the return journey and become stricken with dysentery? And if he were to be struck down in his prime, why must it be before he had sired another son? Even an infant son would have been better than a leper!
Or why hadn’t the leper died first? Then, at least, they could have married the elder girl off to a powerful and vigorous nobleman, a fighting man capable of stepping into Amalric’s shoes.
But a leper? Were they really going to place the crown of Jerusalem on the head of a leper? Didn’t that besmirch the Crown itself? The nobles would never accept such an abomination—much less the Templars and Hospitallers.
Jerusalem had from the start been an elected kingship. They would elect a man from among their own ranks—Raymond de Tripoli, perhaps, or Humphrey de Toron, or Miles de Oultrejourdain. The leper would be bypassed, set aside, put away in a mountain monastery, where everyone could soon forget the shame of a leper prince of Jerusalem.
But then the Patriarch caught his breath, reminded of a conversation he had had with the Archdeacon of Tyre. Tyre had argued that God had made the heir to Jerusalem a leper to teach humility to the haughty and vain nobles and bishops of the Holy Land.
Was it possible, the Patriarch asked himself now, that God was angry that the nobles of Outremer had dared to create a king in his city at all? After all, the good Godfrey de Bouillon had refused to “wear a cross of gold where Christ had worn a cross of thorn.” His brother and his brother’s successors had not been so scrupulous. But the Patriarch dismissed this notion almost as soon as he thought of it. Too much time had elapsed since the coronation of Baldwin I.
But those early kings had been more devout and God-fearing than his contemporaries, the Patriarch reflected, and maybe God felt it was necessary to teach this self-indulgent and impious generation—men like Heraclius, who openly lived with his concubine, and Reynald de Châtillon, who dared humiliate the honest and aging Patriarch of Antioch—a lesson in humility. Weren’t all lepers sent to sift the holy from the unholy? For the service to lepers was recognized as near to saintly, and those that served lepers demonstrated their devotion to God. Maybe God had a wise purpose, after all, in sending a leper boy to rule over His Holy City and all the Holy Land.
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