The two men stared at one another. One was an emperor controlling land from the Baltic to the River Jordan, and the other the Master of a small and financially insecure order of knights. But Salza was a man of his word, a man of deep integrity, and a man who believed that God watched everything he did and said.
“The Pope himself recognizes us as King of Jerusalem,” the Emperor defended himself.
“The Pope is inadequately informed about the Constitution of Jerusalem,” Salza countered. “However, I’m sure that he will be better tutored if circumstances make it necessary.”
The Hohenstaufen’s eyes narrowed slightly, but then he simply continued his narrative. “These men, claiming to represent the so-called High Court” (he spoke the words with heavy sarcasm) “further claim that a king’s right to the kingdom expires if he does not set foot in the kingdom within a year! Have you ever heard of anything more ridiculous in your life?”
Salza leaned forward to prop his elbows on the table between them and clasped his hands. His eyes were fixed hard on his Emperor. He was not for a moment afraid of this man, and that showed in his every move and gesture. He knew that his Order was dependent on imperial patronage. He knew that it served the interests of the Order to keep the Hohenstaufen on his side. However, over the years, Salza had also learned that he profited most when he pointed out the truth to this man. As the monarch of a vast empire, too many people told the Hohenstaufen only what he wanted to hear, yet Frederick himself recognized that without facts and truth he could not make rational decisions.
“First,” Salza opened, “the Kings of Jerusalem have always been elected by the leading barons of the realm. That tradition goes back to the first armed pilgrimage that liberated Jerusalem from the Egyptians in Anno Domino 1099. Since none of the leaders of that pilgrimage were kings, and none were subject to the other, it was a matter of coming to a consensus. Second, although thereafter the closest relative of the last monarch was recognized as having the best claim to the throne, they were not automatically recognized as king. On the contrary, the precedent was set very early that the closest relative in the Holy Land took precedence over a relative, even a senior relative, still in the West. Third, in the course of time, the council, composed of all the knights of the kingdom, assumed increasing powers—to contract the marriage of heiresses, to make treaties, to settle disputes of inheritance, and more. That, Your Excellency, is the High Court of Jerusalem. It has made—and unmade—kings before now. It was the High Court, remember, that forced Richard of England to abandon Guy de Lusignan and recognize your late wife’s grandfather as king.”
The Emperor drew a breath to speak, but Salza held up his hand and stopped him. “So, Your Excellency, if the High Court of Jerusalem tells you that your son’s right to the crown of Jerusalem expires if he does not set foot in Jerusalem within a year, it doesn’t matter whether you think that is an absurd notion or not. If it is what the barons of Jerusalem believe. Failure to comply will not only weaken your son’s claim, it will give them a legal basis for rebellion.”
The Emperor’s expression was increasingly resentful. He was pressing his fleshy lips together, and his pale skin was turning red. Still, Salza continued in a reasonable tone. “What, after all, is the harm in sending your son to grow up in Jerusalem?”
“What? So he can grow up with as little regard for us as our firstborn? So he can rebel when he thinks he’s big enough? Never!” The explosion of words did not entirely surprise Salza. He had recognized that the Emperor was slowly working himself into a fit of righteous indignation—as he so often did when he thought any of his royal prerogatives were being questioned or inhibited.
The Emperor sprang to his feet and started pacing about the room in agitation. “Why should we respect their outdated laws? Why should we allow their quaint customs to bind us? We are the rightful King of Jerusalem, and we will make them bend to our will!”
“As they did in Acre, Your Excellency?”
Frederick grabbed one of the chairs and flung it over in fury. “The Ibelins are behind this! Beirut is the one who has made all this up and seduced the others into thinking it is true! We should have killed him while we had the chance!”
Salza considered pointing out that killing an unarmed man over dinner without evidence of wrongdoing much less a trial would have been an act of tyranny. Instead, he decided there was no profit in discussing something that had not happened. Let the Emperor rage.
The Emperor’s thoughts had evidently also returned to that fateful banquet in Limassol when his armed men had surrounded the unarmed Ibelins and their supporters. “We swore in the presence of all the Cypriot lords and bishops that John d’Ibelin would surrender to us the lordship of Beirut and reimburse us of all the revenues he and his brother had enjoyed from the royal treasury of Cyprus! It is because we did not keep our word, that they do not respect us!”
“No. They do not respect you because you have not proven that the Ibelins stole even a sou of royal treasure, much less that Ibelin holds Beirut illegally,” Salza countered steadfastly. “It is because you have produced no evidence and allowed them no chance to defend themselves before their peers that they despise you as a tyrant.”
The Emperor stopped pacing and glared at the Teutonic Master with narrowed eyes.
“You did yourself more harm than good by trying to seize properties without due process. Trying to take Castle Pilgrim from the Templars is what turned them against you, and the Templars make much better friends than enemies.”
“We planned to give Castle Pilgrim to you—your Order that is.” The Emperor snapped back.
“We did not ask for it,” Salza countered without flinching. “Starkenberg is enough—and Prussia.”
Frederick’s eyes glinted as they shifted slightly from Salza to the room around them as if looking for something before returning to settle on Salza. “Prussia. Yes. Prussia is a good place for you. The Holy Land is corrupted. No place for good German knights such as you and yours. The people of Outremer have become insubordinate and independent—why, even the peasants are freemen!” Although his words were strong, the Emperor had his temper under control now. He spoke in a calm voice. That, Salza knew from experience, meant that he was all the more serious and determined. “We will not tolerate the insubordination of barons! We will teach them a lesson! We will break their resistance—by making an example of Beirut and his litter of whelps! We will—by the very Tomb of Christ at which we wore our crown—break the power of the Ibelins on Cyprus and in Syria. We will ensure that they control not one square foot of land in either kingdom. We will exterminate the House of Ibelin, so no one remembers that it ever existed.”
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