Jusef, too, had been lucky. He’d found the horses of Sidon, Montbèliard, and Egesheim. He’d hoped to find Caesarea’s squire here as well, as he was Guy, the youngest of the Ibelin sons, but Caesarea had not risked bringing an Ibelin to Beirut. As a result, all the horses were being tended by strangers. Still, Jusef had offered to help, and Egesheim’s squire, Franz, had accepted the offer. Jusef had been at the stables when the three former baillies returned to the stables together in considerable agitation. Montbèliard was squawking in his distinctive high-pitched voice about Filangieri’s arrogance, while Egesheim merely looked grim. Sidon, characteristically, looked impassive and spoke calmly, but the set of his jaw made him look angry.
“The man is a snake,” Montbèliard insisted. “On the one hand, he is puffed up with his own importance, while on the other, he insists he is only ‘the servant’ of the Emperor. He has the audacity to lay siege to a Peer of the Realm yet claims to take orders like a sergeant.”
“That is exactly the point, isn’t it?” Egesheim growled. “Frederick doesn’t want noblemen who act like noblemen, he wants noblemen who act like sergeants.” His disgust made him spit out the words as if they tasted bitter.
Sidon smiled wanly at that and cast his former co-regent a respectful look before noting, “What is clear is that Filangieri is carrying out the Emperor’s instructions. He has not overstepped his mandate in any way and fears no rebuke from his master for what he has done—or what he is planning to do. Every time we tried to point out the weakness of his policy, he enjoined us to go to the Emperor personally.”
“So, maybe we should do just that.” Montbèliard suggested.
“What do you mean?” Egesheim asked. “Go to Sicily?”
“Yes. We need to see the Emperor face-to-face. After all, he respected us. If we go together and explain that his new baillie is completely overstepping his mandate and making enemies left and right, I’m sure he’ll take action to curb Filangieri!”
Sidon snorted. “If you think he’s going to appoint any of us—individually or jointly—as baillie again, you’re riding for a fall, Montbèliard. I doubt very much that the Emperor would change his policy based on anything we do or say.”
“The Emperor is not stupid,” Egesheim cautiously reminded his colleagues. “Perhaps, if we warned him that he risks losing the loyalty of all his lords because of his vindictive attacks on one innocent one, then perhaps. . . . ”
“Does he risk that?” Sidon asked back. “Does he really risk that?”
“You saw how Filangieri treated us. He will treat lesser men even more imperiously. His behavior is guaranteed to make men turn on the Emperor.” Montbèliard insisted, “far more is at stake here than the fate of the Lord of Beirut. Beirut is only a symbol, an example of Imperial disdain for our laws and our customs.”
“Sir Eudes is right,” Egesheim spoke up again in his deep voice. “Our only hope to prevent civil war is to convince the Emperor to recall Filangieri and appoint someone with more tact and understanding of the East. If not one of us, then someone else.”
Sidon considered Egesheim for a moment, and then with a deep sigh, he nodded agreement. “We should sail at the earliest opportunity, from Tyre, if possible.”
Suddenly they were in motion again, signaling for their horses. Franz jumped forward to bring his lord his horse, and Montbèliard’s squire was equally quick off the mark, but Jusef snatched the bridle of Sidon’s stallion and brought him forward, leaning on the off-stirrup.
Sidon swung himself up into the saddle, but as he took up his reins, his eyes fell on Jusef and widened in recognition. “Aren’t you—”
Jusef put his finger to his lips.
Sidon leaned down from the saddle. “What’s the situation?”
“We can hold, my lord. As long as they don’t assault us.”
Sidon frowned. “They are preparing an assault—as soon as they’ve softened you up with bombardment and finished the mine. Can you get Lady Isabella out?”
“She won’t leave, my lord,” Jusef whispered.
“Then God help her,” Sidon replied, and turned his horse about to ride out of the stable courtyard with the others in his wake.
Jusef watched them go and was about to slip out into the street when a man caught him by the arm from behind. “I know you!” he exclaimed, his eyes narrowing. “You’re one of Beirut’s grooms.”
Jusef shook his head vigorously.
The man only tightened his grip. “Yes, you are! You’re a spy! Georges, Jacques! Come quick! I’ve caught a spy! An Arab spy working for Beirut! Filangieri will give us a pretty prize for this little Arab sneak!”
Jusef had heard that they tortured spies and then killed them slowly. Terror seized him more tightly than the man’s grip on his arm. With a swift twist he rammed his knee into the man’s groin and wrenched his arm free as the man howled in outraged pain. He used his other foot to send him staggering backward before darting out into the street. Behind him his assailant was screaming for help to “catch the Arab spy.”
Jusef turned the first corner and ran from one side alley to the next, jumping over any obstacle in his way. The important thing was to keep turning, to avoid running in a straight line for very long. At the same time, he had to work his way toward one of the gates, any gate. He had to get outside the city because the man at the stable was sure to tell the watch. He would tell them what to look for.
Jusef had never been so frightened in his life before. His bowels were liquid, and his head was light. He had to get to the khan or was the leprosarium safer? Out of the city was all that mattered for now.
He reached the road leading southwest to Sidon and darted between a laden cart departing the city and a slowly swaying camel caravan headed for the port. He bumped into someone who shouted an angry protest, and half collided with a laden donkey as he tried to avoid a pile of shit. He was breathing so heavily he could hear nothing but the air in his own lungs, and he knew he could not run much longer. The gate-towers loomed up on either side of him, and he dashed between them, out onto the drawbridge over the dry moat surrounding the city.
He plunged off the end of the bridge and went crashing down. His foot had landed only half-on and half-off the final plank. The gravel of the road tore his hose and the skin of his knees and palms. His ankle was killing him. He tried to drag himself up and realized his ankle was broken. He’d never be able to get back up the trail to the castle—and he’d already been recognized.
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