As soon as they were out of hearing of the others, Balian resumed the earlier conversation. “So, what is upsetting our father?”
Bella sighed deeply and admitted, “The Emperor has sent orders to his baillies to confiscate Beirut.”
“Yes, it’s the old claim he made at the banquet at Limassol—”
“I can hardly forget that,” Balian snapped sourly; it had been at that banquet that he’d been seized as a “hostage” for his father, put in a double pillory, beaten, and then starved of both food and water for days. “Surely we have demonstrated that we hold Beirut by right!”
“That’s just it. The Emperor says we don’t and has ordered the baillies to secure it—by force if necessary.”
“Not without a judgment of the High Court!” Balian declared indignantly.
“That’s what father says, of course, but the Emperor is putting pressure on the baillies to take action.”
“And our dear cousin of Sidon is buckling?” Balian wanted to know, his body tense.
“He’s the one who has kept us informed of the Emperor’s demands,” Bella explained. “He doesn’t want to take action, well, not to use force. He asked father to surrender Beirut, while an investigation—”
“Never!” Balian told her sharply.
Bella sighed. “I knew you’d react like that.”
“Don’t tell me Baldwin thinks we should comply with this nonsense?” Baldwin, only a year younger than Balian, was in many ways his opposite and it had always created tension and rivalry between them. At times, such as during their shared incarceration by the Emperor, they discovered their shared blood and heritage, but more often than not, they were at odds.
“No, he agrees with you. It’s just . . . Can we risk a siege, Balian? If it comes to that, think of all the innocent people who would suffer? The ordinary citizens, people who have nothing to do with this dispute.”
“If we surrender Beirut without a judgment of the High Court, we will never get it back! The Emperor will never take the case to court because he knows he’d lose! His strategy is to chase us out with threats! You may plan to take vows of poverty, but the rest of us haven’t and don’t intend to! And if the Emperor can just throw us out of our fief without justification or judgment, then no one is safe from his greed! No one! Don’t you see that?”
“I don’t understand politics, Balian, and I don’t want to argue with you. All I see is how much suffering wars cause. When I think of the state Eschiva was in after her flight from Cyprus—”
“Yes! After fleeing from the Emperor’s mercenaries, who were making war on women and children! Honestly, Bella! Can’t you grasp what is at stake here?”
“Don’t shout at me, Balian. I don’t pretend to understand what is right. You and father will make the decisions, with Hugh and Baldwin’s advice, no doubt. I’ll just try to pick up the pieces after you’ve broken things.”
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