The Lord of Beirut wished he could remember those words now. He wished he knew where his duty lay. To his little girl? His father had humbled himself before his worst enemy and crossed a hundred miles of Saracen-held territory to save his children. Should he surrender Beirut to the Emperor, give it up although it was rightfully his, for Bella’s sake?
Or should he fight for what was his at the risk of his daughter’s health, sanity, virtue, and possibly even her life?
Why cling to Beirut? Because he had built it from ruin and loved it like a child? Could he sacrifice a child of flesh and blood for one of stone?
Should he fight for it because it was his right? Would they put that on Bella’s tombstone? She died to prove her father was in the right?
No, he could not do that.
He must surrender Beirut and accept the Lord’s Will, just as his father had done. His father had lost far more. His father had been left with nothing when he signed the Treaty of Ramla.
Nothing—except the return of 20,000 Christian slaves, a voice reminded John.
“Father?” The voice of his heir startled John, and he tried to pull himself up off the floor only to discover he was completely stiff and gave an involuntary groan.
“Are you alright?” Balian asked coming deeper into the room.
“Of course, I’m alright,” John snapped at his first born. “Haven’t you ever seen a man pray before?”
“Face down in the dark? No.”
“Well, take a good look!” John retorted, although by now he had pulled his arms and knees back under him. As he tried to push himself upright, however, he grunted again, and his son held out his hand. He took it and dragged himself upright to look him in the eye. “I thought I told Father Norbert that I did not want to be disturbed.”
“I told him I had an urgent message for you.”
“And do you?”
“Yes, I do. Caesarea has been in contact with Bella through intermediaries that slipped out of the eastern postern. Furthermore, Sidon went there to plead your case directly to Filangieri. He failed to convince the bastard to desist, but at least he got a very good look at Filangieri’s troops, siege engines, and the mine he’s digging from the fosse under the barbican.”
“Is determined to hold out until we can come to her relief.”
“With what, Balian? We’ve been through this before. The men we have are not enough to break this siege!” Beirut could not suppress his exasperation with his heir, for this was a conversation they had had at least a dozen times since the news of the siege arrived.
“Father, you are wrong. We are no longer alone. In addition to Walter’s message came the following,” Balian held out a document. “It is an appeal from the lords and commons of Acre that you return to take up the leadership of a society they have founded to defend the rights of the residents. They call themselves the Brotherhood of St. Andrew. Read the names attached to the letter, Father. There is hardly a man of property or substance that has not signed it.” There was no mistaking the excitement in Balian’s voice. “They’re all behind you, Father. Magnate, knight, and merchant! They understand that your rights are their rights. If the Emperor can disseize you—a mighty baron and former regent—without due process, then he can treat them, mere knights and men of trade, like slaves. They are begging you to return and defend yourself, Father. To defend their rights. To defend the rule of law.”
Beirut felt tears sting his eyes and he grabbed his son’s shoulder. “Are you sure of this?”
“Read for yourself, Father. I could not make this up nor forge so many signatures. But there is one thing more.”
“Yes?” Beirut waited tensely. The only light in the chapel came from the Eucharist candle that had almost burned itself out. His son’s face was all but lost in shadow, and the light flickered, making him seem almost ghostly.
“When I was growing up you used to tell me tales of my grandfather and how he served young King Baldwin IV. Again and again, you told how the King, despite his handicaps, proved he had the heart of a lion.” Beirut nodded. “There is another king who is greater than he seems. Do not forget or underestimate King Henry.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you go to him, Father, and request his support, you will not go away empty-handed.”
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