It was with this sense of being exceptionally blessed that Balian sought out the Archbishop of Nicosia. He was prepared to be conciliatory, to suggest the Archbishop had been misled by Gerard de Montaigu or even his servants, anything that would allow the Archbishop to retain the appearance of good faith.
He was received with courtesy by the Archbishop’s staff and escorted to the prelate’s large and well-appointed library. Here the prelate was lodged in a heavy armed chair behind a massive desk and flanked by two scribes both of whom were feeding him documents for signature. As soon as he signed one, the clerk whisked it away and the other set the next in front of him.
Balian stopped a yard before the desk and respectfully waited for the bishop to finish his business. The Archbishop looked up, saw him, and without a word of greeting burst out. “I was wondering when you would have the courage to face me, Ibelin!”
Balian was caught off guard and stiffened. Before he could answer, however, the Archbishop shooed his clerks away with an angry gesture of his hands, shoved back the chair and got to his feet. The clerks retreated hastily, clutching their precious documents, but they did not leave. Instead, they waited just inside the far exit with alert faces, evidently eager to witness what came next.
“Don’t think I don’t know what you’ve been doing behind my back!” The Archbishop continued, his face already flushed with anger. “I know that you have bullied and threatened my servants, using brute force to impose your will upon them!”
“That’s not—” Balian tried to protest, but the Bishop waved him silent.
“You are worse than a common thief, who breaks in and steals a few baubles! No, you have snatched it all!” He made a grasping gesture with his fist while gazing at Balian with eyes burning with outrage.
Balian was at pains to keep his temper in check, acutely aware that if he lost it, he would make things worse. Nevertheless, he was determined to defend himself. “I have stolen nothing. What I have done was secure homage—for lands that legally belong to me.”
The Archbishop exploded, “How can they belong to you? Might does not make right!” He shook his finger at Balian, while the scribes moved father back, as if they expected Balian to draw his sword and attack them.
“Of course, it doesn’t!” Balian snapped in irritation. “Who do you think you’re talking to? I’m the son of the Lord of Beirut, and there is no man more wedded to the law than he. It is by right of law—not by brute force—that I took homage for estates held by Ibelin for more than 20 years, and for 5 estates that have newly been deeded to me as the dowry of my lady, Eschiva de Montbéliard—”
“Eschiva de Montbéliard is your cousin! She cannot be your wife!” The Archbishop dismissed the notion contemptuously, adding in sneering contempt, “Not that I doubt you have known her carnally. Your reputation for sinful fornication is common knowledge, after all.”
For that insult to Eschiva, Balian wanted to hit him in the middle of his sanctimonious face, but, reminding himself that his father admonished him to be less emotional, he curbed his anger. “I received a papal dispensation to marry my cousin, and I have done so—”
“No, you haven’t!” The Archbishop shouted. “You may fornicate with your cousin all you like, but you cannot call it marriage!”
“Our marriage was performed before witnesses and blessed by a priest.” Balian countered, fighting the instinct to shout back.
“You lie! I ordered an interrogation of all priests in my diocese. Every single one of them has sworn before their respective bishop on holy relics that they did not commit such a travesty!”
“Correct, because our marriage was witnessed and blessed by a priest of the Knights Templar.” Balian snapped back. He had the satisfaction of seeing the Archbishop flinch in surprise. The Templars and Hospitallers both stood outside the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the Templars had a reputation of interpreting canon law somewhat more liberally than others—particularly with respect to excommunication.
The Archbishop’s eyes narrowed, as he recognized he had just been outmaneuvered, but he recovered rapidly. “I don’t care. You are related within the prohibited degrees and the marriage is not valid!”
“It is valid because we have a papal dispensation!” Balian flung back, his patience exhausted. Without wanting to, he had raised his voice.
“Prove it!” the Archbishop countered, thrusting out his chin, contempt in his eyes.
With a sense of satisfaction, Balian reached inside his gambeson to remove the dispensation bearing the seal of the Papal Legate to the Holy Land, Patriarch Gerold of Jerusalem. Again, he had the satisfaction of seeing the Archbishop’s shock. This time his eyes widened as he sensed he’d been checkmated, but then his face hardened and his lips pressed so firmly together that his face became square. “Give that to me!” He ordered holding out his hand for it and snapping his fingers impatiently as he would at an unresponsive clerk.
Balian handed it over triumphantly.
The Archbishop snatched it out of his hand and with only a cursory glance at it screamed, “Forgery!”
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