The disapproval in the air was palpable.
Beirut remained calm, as he always did, and he gestured for Balian to sit down opposite him. Balian was not deceived.
The Lord of Beirut opened with, “I don’t know what to say, Balian. I concede, you were placed in an awkward situation. I assume the poor girl was quite hysterical after being assaulted by sailors and only rescued at the price of watching two men killed. Still,” he paused, sighed deeply, and then continued, “still, I am flabbergasted that you could be so irresponsible and hot-headed. It makes me regret entrusting you with this mission. Your brother Baldwin would certainly have behaved more rationally and responsibly.”
“What do you mean?” Balian answered defensively. “What have I done wrong now?”
“Honestly, Balian!” Baldwin exclaimed in an exasperated tone. “How could you be so stupid? God knows what really happened! You can’t seriously believe that a noblewoman was kept in a harem like a slave, or that the Holy Roman Emperor would make threats against one of his most loyal vassals. The girl is obviously unstable—”
The Lord of Beirut gestured for his second son to be silent, admonishing in a stern but restrained tone. “There is no need to cast aspersions on your cousin, Baldwin.” Turning back to Balian, he continued, “I would have expected my son and heir to be more circumspect and cautious in a delicate situation like this.”
“Just what the hell did you expect me to do?” Balian burst out.
“There’s no need to swear,” his father reminded him sternly.
Balian drew a deep breath. “Just what would you have had me do? Lady Eschiva arrived in a bloodstained gown and begged for my protection. Was I supposed to turn her away?”
“No. Of course not. The only thing you could do initially was to take her in, give her comfort, help her calm down, and ensure her immediate safety. However, you should not have set sail with her on board until you had sent word to the Emperor. As it is, it appears to all the world that you fled criminal charges of murder against Novare and kidnapped a woman of the Imperial household. In doing so, you have succeeded, no doubt, in making an enemy of the most powerful monarch on earth, the rightful regent of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and your overlord.”
Balian squirmed in his chair because, of course, they had fled charges against Novare.
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