s the door clunked shut behind him, shutting off the noise of the Saracen singing and music and the babble of voice, he could hear the church bells from across the city ringing for the Feast of the Epiphany—or at least trying to. During the more than 30 years of Muslim rule, the church bells of Jaffa had been silenced. Indeed, most bells had been melted down or put to some other purpose. What clanged now were improvised bells, brought down from Acre or found in disuse. Many were damaged or had jury-rigged clappers. The effect was hardly harmonious, let alone joyous.
Then the bells, cacophonous as they had been, fell silent, and the mood was even more depressing. Balian thought he could hear the sound of surf pounding on the ledge offshore. According to legend, it was on that ledge that the Ethiopian princess Andromeda had been chained until she was rescued by Perseus riding the winged horse Pegasus. Balian imagined being chained to the rock and rescued by Lady Eschiva in a fishing boat. He pictured her standing at the tiller with the waves breaking over the bow. The image made him smile for a moment.
Then sobering, Balian regretted he had not yet had a chance to thank her for her intercession with the king. He had encountered her husband on multiple occasions. Gerard de Montaigu was never good company, but Balian felt Gerard had been pointedly cold and curt. Either he knew about Eschiva’s role in Balian’s release and disapproved, or he still begrudged them their innocent flirting at that long-ago banquet in Nicosia. Balian opted to let sleeping dogs lie and entrusted Bella with the task of expressing his gratitude to Eschiva.
Balian supposed he thought so much about Eschiva because he had lost all appetite for women of easy virtue since his humiliation at the hands of Barlais and the Emperor. His sleep was too often ruined by nightmares in which he was leprous or otherwise so badly scarred that women turned away from him in revulsion. He heard Barlais deriding him for cracked and worthless balls, and then the Emperor mocking him for being repulsive to women. Sometimes when he thrashed himself awake, it took long seconds before he realized he was still whole and not permanently disfigured.
Maybe he should go into town to find his father and brothers? They were with the army, of course, but they kept their distance from the Emperor and his household as much as possible. Still, there was no reason why they couldn’t meet, Balian reasoned. He longed for the company of his brothers, even Baldwin, and would have liked to listen to his father tell again the story of how the Lionheart with just a handful of men shamed the Sultan Saladin by challenging the entire Saracen army to combat with him, or how his grandfather came to the Lionheart’s relief. And then there was Ibelin, only a few miles to the south. Maybe, if they were just going to while away the time here he could ask his father to take him to Ibelin.
Balian had only just convinced himself that he should go in search of his father and brothers when Johnny burst out of the stairwell ahead of him. “Balian! I’ve been looking all over for you!”
“Well met, Johnny! I was just about to go in search of our father. Do you want to come with me?”
“I can’t. You’ve got to come quick. Henry has sent for you.”
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