“I DON’T THINK YOU SHOULD DO that, sir!” Rob told Balian urgently, holding his knight back by the arm with a strength no longer juvenile.
Rob would be ready for knighthood soon, Balian registered, and he’d have to find a new squire. He didn’t look forward to that. For now, however, he had his brother to deal with. “I can’t let Baldwin dismiss me as if I were old bones or a monk!” he told his squire emphatically.
“Yes, you can,” Rob countered steadily. “Let him treat you like you’re a fragile old lady for all I care! It won’t change the fact that you’re your father’s heir.”
“That’s not the point! I feel fine and it’s time to show Baldwin, and everyone else who happens to be watching, that I am fine.” Balian glanced at the large crowd of spectators that always collected around the lists below the citadel of Beirut. There was at least a score of his father’s knights with their squires, the Lord of Karpas, of course, his cousin of Caesarea, and Hugh and Baldwin both, with their youngest brother Guy getting underfoot in his eagerness to help. On top of that, there was the usual crowd of idle or errant apprentices, sailors, peddlers, journeymen, and beggars, all attracted by the entertainment offered by knights testing their strength and skills against one another on powerful, high strung horses. On a fine day like this, all that was missing were the heralds, trumpets, and pageantry.
“You may feel fine,” Rob countered, “but the doctor warned you not to risk a fall.”
“That was almost a year ago. I can’t spend the rest of my life avoiding risks. That’s not how a man wins the respect of other men, much less retains his inheritance. If I can’t take my place with my father and brothers in defense of the Holy Land, then I don’t deserve to inherit Beirut.”
“Yes, and for the defense of the Holy Land, Sir, you would be justified in taking risks,” Rob answered firmly. “But this has nothing to do with defending the Holy Land. This is nothing but sport.”
“This is training for war. If I don’t get back into shape here, I won’t be able to take on the Saracens.”
“Whether we like it or not, we actually have a ten-year truce with the Turks,” Rob pointed out.
“If you believe they’ll respect that, you’re more naïve than I thought!” Balian scoffed.
Rob refused to be provoked. “With all due respect, sir, this has nothing to do with training and everything to do with showing Sir Baldwin up!”
Balian burst out laughing and flung his arm around his squire’s shoulders. “All right, Rob. You win. It does. And I’m going to do it.” Then dropping his arm, Balian turned toward the lists and raised his voice to shout across the tiltyard to Baldwin. “Get a fresh horse, Baldwin! You’re not done yet!”
Baldwin had just successfully defeated all comers and had been about to withdraw from the lists in self-satisfied triumph “for the honor of Ibelin”—as if he were the heir.
“What?” Baldwin twisted around in the saddle and looked over his shoulder in surprise.
Balian ducked under the railing and walked to the center of the tiltyard, calling as he came, “Do you want a formal challenge?”
Baldwin turned and trotted back toward his brother. As he reached him, he leaned his elbow on the pommel of his saddle and bent down to speak in a low voice. “Balian, are you sure?”
“Yes! You’re too full of yourself. You need to be cut back down to a suffer-able size.”
“Ha, ha. Look, I don’t want to hurt you, but in front of all these people, I’m not going to just roll off to make you look good. If you insist on jousting with me, it will be for real.”
“I know.” Balian met his eyes.
“And you want to go through with this?”
Balian smiled with his mouth, but his eyes were earnest.
“Mount up then, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!” Baldwin turned his horse around and shouted to his squire to tack up his reserve stallion. Balian meanwhile returned to Rob, who was still on the far side frowning.
“What’s this? Insubordination?” Balian asked, only half in jest.
“No, you didn’t tell me which horse you wanted, sir,” Rob answered sullenly.
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