A moment later five men burst into the room. The man leading was stocky with hair so blond it was almost white around a bright red scalp. The beard was likewise white-blond under a bright red face with a peeling nose. The Marshal of the Teutonic Knights had evidently not yet adjusted to the Mediterranean sun. He was flanked and followed by four giants that towered over him—although the Germans might not have seemed so tall if they had not been led by their undersized marshal. These knights wore their coifs up over their heads, obscuring their tonsures, and their beards were lost under the aventails fastened across their chins.
The Templar Master bristled inwardly as he noted the Teutonic Marshal wore the gold crosses of Jerusalem beneath the silver-edged, black Latin cross of the Deutsche Ritter Orden. He considered the insignia an unjustified affectation given the fact the junior order had not made its appearance in the Holy Land until after Jerusalem was lost. The fact that the privilege to wear the crosses of Jerusalem had been granted by King John of Brienne nine years ago did not make matters any better for the Templar; Brienne too was a parvenu in his mind.
The Teutonic Marshal came to a halt some six feet short of the dais and inclined his head. “My lords.”
“Welcome to Cyprus, Marshal von Falkenhayn,” Eustance answered for all three of them.
“I would have preferred to make my acquaintance with the island after capturing Jerusalem,” the German replied bluntly. “I had not expected to be called from Acre to put down an unseemly rebellion!”
“This altercation between the Emperor and the Cypriot nobility is indeed regrettable,” the Archbishop of Nicosia agreed.
The Teutonic Marshal frowned darkly. “I call it more than regrettable, my lord; I call it treason. Indeed, it is blasphemy as it endangers our Holy mission to retake Jerusalem.”
Pedro growled behind Eustace’s chair, muttering, “He conveniently ignores the law, doesn’t he?”
Eustace, however, ignored his brother and responded to the German in a conciliatory tone. “We all agree, I think, that it is in the interests of Christendom to put an end to this dispute.”
“Which is why we are here. My brothers and I have come to crush the rebellion and take the leaders captive. I hereby request the support of our brothers-in-Christ, the Knights of the Hospital and the Knights Templar.” His eyes had already left the Archbishop to shift between the Masters of the other two militant orders.
“The Hospital will not take sides in this dispute,” Guerin answered immediately and firmly.
“Take sides?” Gunther von Falkenhayn asked, raising his eyebrows and curling his lips in a sneer. “What sides are there? On one side are God and the Emperor, on the other, rebellious felons! Does your order also not take sides between murderers and their intended victims? Between Christians and Saracens?” he sneered.
“I will not lower myself to answer such a question. As for God and the Emperor being on the same side, that is debatable, given his excommunicated status. The Lord of Beirut certainly has the law on his side—and the loyalty of four-fifths of the lords and knights of Cyprus. That should give you pause.”
“And the Temple?” Falkenhayn dismissed Guerin and the Hospitallers.
“The Knights Templar are prohibited from fighting fellow Christians. Nor do we recognize the leadership of a man expelled from the Holy Communion of Christianity by His Holiness the Pope.”
Falkenhayn again raised his eyebrows. “I see. So both of you are going to sit here on your—” he stopped himself, smiled, and with a little bow revised his phraseology to “comfortable, cushioned seats while the German knights alone defend Christendom and deal with these rebels?”
“We will not interfere in these secular matters,” Pedro affirmed, but added, “yet I am curious about how do you intend to ‘crush’ these ‘rebels,’ as you call them?”
“They have already fled before us,” Falkenhayn answered with a dismissive gesture of his hand. “They have abandoned Nicosia. We will run them to earth wherever they are. I doubt they will put up much resistance. They appear fundamentally cowards with, I dare say, a guilty conscience, as well.”
“I see,” Pedro noted with a glance to Guerin. “Would it change your opinion if I told you the reason the Lord of Beirut withdrew from Nicosia was to avoid Christian bloodshed?”
“The best way to avoid Christian bloodshed would be for that traitor to surrender to the Emperor his stolen treasure and his illegally held lordship of Beirut along with his miserable person.”
“But it has not been proven before a court of law that he has a treasure, much less a stolen one, nor that he holds Beirut illegally—since it was granted to him by his sister and a king who loved him dearly.”
“I’m not here to quibble with you, my lord. If Beirut cares even a little about Jerusalem, he will surrender his person, his treasure, and his city. The rights of it can be looked into afterward if the Emperor is so inclined. Meanwhile, we can all get on with this crusade.”
“And if he doesn’t surrender?”
“Then we will take him prisoner and deliver him.”
Pedro nodded and Guerin and Eustace looked over at him curiously. “I would like to witness this arrest—if you don’t mind. Would you have any objection to me accompanying you? I promise to bring only a squire and two knights with me.” Guerin and Eustace looked at their brother even more astonished but did not question him out loud.
“It would be our pleasure to show you how the Deutsche Ritter Order conducts operations,” Gunther von Falkenhayn replied proudly. “We will depart first thing tomorrow. If you wish to accompany us, report to my tent no later than sunrise.”
Pedro bowed his head. “I will be there,” he assured them.
The German returned the gesture, followed by a brief nod to the Archbishop and Hospitaller. Then he spun about on his heels to exit between his own men, who did an about-face as he passed so that they all marched out together in a compact unit. “Impressive,” Eustace commented.
“We’ll see,” Pedro replied grimly.
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