“HENRY?” JOHNNY SAT UP IN BED and felt frantically for his king. The latter should have been sleeping beside him, but he was alone and the sheets were cold.
“Henry?” Johnny pulled open the bed-curtains and peered out into the room beyond. Moonlight and a cool breeze were pouring through the arches of a double-light window. The moonlight made the polished marble pillar separating the arches appear almost luminous. The moonlight also fell on the spiral and polygon patterns of the mosaic floor and stretched nearly to the empty fireplace where a bed had been made up for the King’s dog, Harry.
“Henry, what’s the matter?” Johnny had located his king at last. He was clutching his knees as he sat hunched under the hood of the fireplace behind his dog’s bed.
Henry didn’t answer.
Johnny flung back the covers and pushed the curtains aside to go to his friend. Like the king, he was dressed only in a night-shirt that hung loosely to mid-calf. “What’s the matter? Is something wrong with Harry?” He looked down at the dog as he came to stand before the dog’s basket. But Harry was sleeping peacefully, indeed blissfully, his ears flopping over the edge of the basket and his paws relaxed as he breathed evenly.
Johnny went down on his heels to be at Henry’s level and peered at him. The moonlight was sufficient for him to see the king’s face was streaked with tears. “What is it, Henry?”
“I don’t want to get married,” Henry burst out.
Johnny could understand that. Who wanted to be married at twelve to a complete stranger? The Emperor had chosen Alice de Montferrat, but the girl was still in Greece or Bulgaria or somewhere, so neither of them had ever laid eyes on her. It didn’t help that she was said to be five or six years older than her bridegroom. Yet Henry was supposed to marry her by proxy on the morrow.
“Can we sit somewhere more comfortable to discuss this?” Johnny asked practicably; he had goosebumps from the night air.
Henry seemed to consider this for a moment before, with a deep sigh, he let go of his knees and squirmed his way past his sleeping dog to come out from under the fireplace hood. Johnny indicated the comfortable cushions of the window seat and handed Henry the blanket from the foot of their bed in passing, before going to fetch wine and water from a sideboard. When he came back, Henry had snuggled himself into a corner of the window seat with his feet under him and the blanket almost burying him. With a demonstrative sigh of annoyance, Johnny set the pitchers on the window sill, then went back for mugs and a second blanket for himself.
When he was himself settled opposite Henry, clutching a blanket around his shoulders for warmth, he asked more pointedly, “What happened this evening?”
Henry shook his head and frowned and then murmured something Johnny could not understand.
“What?” Johnny insisted.
“I told Barlais I didn’t want to marry Alice!” Henry burst out angrily, still not meeting Johnny’s eye.
“And he said I had to anyway!” Henry snapped.
Johnny could have guessed that much. Henry might be a master at saying “No” and stamping his foot and throwing a tantrum, but the adults always had their way in the end and they both knew that. “Surely you knew he would say that? He promised the Emperor he would see the marriage celebrated ‘at once.’ He wants to prove to the Emperor that he’s reliable.”
“He wants more than that!” Henry spat out.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s ruining my kingdom! He’s turning my people against me! Haven’t you heard what people are saying?”
Of course, Johnny had heard—he’d been the one bringing the gossip in from the kitchens, stables, markets, baths, and taverns. Henry wasn’t allowed out of the palace unless Barlais, Cheneché or Gibelet was with him, and they always took at least six Langobard archers with them, not to mention heralds and squires and grooms. In short, the King couldn’t move among his people freely, only ceremonially with trumpet fanfares and the like. Johnny, on the other hand, was barely tolerated by Barlais and found it quite easy to slip down the back stairs of the palace to the kitchens or stables and from there into the streets of Nicosia. He spoke both Greek and Arabic, the languages of the common people, as well as Latin and French, and he had no trouble overhearing conversations and sensing the tenor of feelings swirling in the streets of Henry’s capital. People were very angry.
For all that, Johnny instinctively sensed that Henry’s behavior now was only marginally related to righteous indignation over the baillies appointed by the Emperor to rule his kingdom for him. Just before sailing for Sicily, Frederick Hohenstaufen had sold the bailliage of Cyprus until Henry came of age to five men: Amaury Barlais, Gauvain de Cheneché, Hugh de Gibelet, Grimbert de Bethsan, and William de Rivet. The first three men had been hostile to his father and uncle for as long as he could remember. Without knowing what had upset Henry, however, all he could do was answer his words. So he pointed out, “People are angry with the baillies, Henry. They bought their offices by promising to pay the Emperor 10,000 marks and they have to raise that money somehow. Everyone knows you have nothing to do with the new taxes.”
“Barlais is evil!” Henry flung at Johnny from behind his blanket barricade. “Have you forgotten what he did to your brothers?”
“It was the Emperor who took them hostage.” Johnny countered.
“And Barlais who tormented and beat them!” Henry countered, adding with the exasperation of a twelve-year-old, “You don’t understand! The Emperor has no feelings except when it comes to his imperial dignity. He’s not human really—just a bunch of ideas. All mind with no heart. He only keeps a harem to make him seem more virile, not because he really wants all those women. But Barlais is different. He’s—evil!” Henry’s tone, which had been almost normal while talking about the Emperor, turned strained when he took the name Barlais into his mouth. Henry buried his face in his blanket, and Johnny knew something terrible had happened between them.
Johnny was a little frightened because he sensed that Henry needed his help, but he didn’t know what to do exactly. After thinking about it a minute, he realized that if he’d been found crying in a fireplace by any of his older brothers, Baldwin would have scolded him about acting like a “cowardly cur,” and Hugh would have teased him to try to cheer him up, but Balian would have pulled him out and put his arms around him and then asked him what the trouble was.
Taking a deep breath, Johnny crossed to Henry’s side of the window seat, opened up his arms and pulled Henry inside his own blanket. Henry at once turned his face into Johnny’s chest and started sobbing. “I’m so scared, Johnny. I’m so scared of him!”
“Christ in heaven, what did he do to you?”
Henry shook his head. “I can’t talk about it. It was terrible. Please, Johnny, don’t ever leave me alone with him again. Ever. Please.”
That was a huge promise. Much too big for Johnny. How could he promise something like that when all Barlais had to do was order him out of the room? What was he, a fourteen-year-old boy, supposed to do? “Henry, I’ll try, but I think my father needs to come here—I mean soon!”
“How can he?” Henry asked back exasperated. “The Emperor made the baillies swear they would never let your father or brothers back on the island. He ordered them to dispossess your whole family of all their fiefs on Cyprus. Surely you knew that was why Frederick kept insisting you come to Sicily to become Lord of Foggia? He wanted to give you something because you won’t inherit anything here in Outremer.”
Johnny hadn’t realized this at all. He looked so dumbfounded, that Henry felt compelled to continue. “Frederick’s determined to crush your whole family—well, except you. He can’t forgive your father for standing up to him and then making him back down. He says your father offended his majesty and so must be brought low. He said he wants to be sure no one even remembers the name Ibelin a hundred years from now,” Henry explained.
Johnny shivered. He had not realized the Emperor’s resentment ran that deep. Balian had warned them, of course, but no one had wanted to believe him.
“You’re all I’ve got, Johnny!” Henry broke into his thoughts. “Please promise you won’t leave me.”
“I won’t leave you. Not voluntarily,” Johnny dutifully assured his young king. “They’ll have to use force to separate us,” he promised, trying to sound brave and confident.
Inside his head, however, he knew that “they” had all the weapons, and it would be child’s play to separate them and keep them apart. All Barlais had to do was snap his fingers and a dozen mercenaries jumped to obey. What could he possibly do to stop them? Nothing.
Johnny shuddered despite the blanket shielding him from the cold. He was afraid, and he wanted his father and brothers. It didn’t matter what Henry said, he would write his father about what was happening. He had a right to know and he would surely do something to stop it. After all, he couldn’t just allow the baillies to take away his properties on Cyprus. Could he?
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