“There’s an army beyond the Beirut River, madame! A whole army!”
Bella stepped up onto the stone ledge inside the parapet with a wary glance at the siege engine on Chaufor. Fortunately, the Sicilians there were also distracted by the approaching troops and running about preparing their own defenses. Bella shaded her eyes against the morning light with her hand and strained to see what was exciting everyone so much.
It was nothing more than a dark mass that moved slowly toward the River of Beirut. There was, however, no bridge at this point and the river had swollen with the recent rains to a wide, rushing, muddy stream. Here and there, the sunlight glinted on something in that amorphous mass beyond the river. She presumed the sunlight was reflected off helmets, but for all she squinted, she couldn’t be sure. Yet everyone around her seemed certain it was the relief army they had been waiting for.
The men of the garrison were going crazy. They started waving flags and then someone produced even more banners and hoisted these from every flagpole along the whole length of the wall. As if that weren’t enough, they now dipped and raised these several times in a kind of waving, while someone had the idea of bringing some of the shards of broken glass onto the rooftop to use these to reflect light off, producing rapid flashes of light. They were cheering and laughing too, but Bella was less euphoric than humbled as she imagined what her father and brothers must have suffered to get this far in the rains of the last week.
From behind them, however, came the sound of horns. Returning to the roof of one of the towers flanking the southern gate, Bella and her companions watched the Imperial knights advance down the street between the textile and dyer’s quarters and out Tripoli Gate. Their banners fluttered from their lance tips, and Sergeant Gautier pointed out Barlais, Gibelet, and Bethsan among the Sicilian knights. They and their followers made up a large contingent.
As the Imperial knights passed through the city gate, the lead riders picked up to a trot and then a slow canter. They rode right to the river’s edge, but they did not attempt to ford the swollen stream. Instead they spread out along the shore in a display of strength. They seemed to be taunting the forces of Ibelin just across the river. “Here we are! Twice as strong as you. Warm and dry and well-fed too!”
The display of force over, Marshal Filangieri turned his stallion about and rode back between the ranks of his troops to retire once more to his comfortable quarters in the city of the man he was keeping out. His knights and men fell in behind him; the very casual way in which they allowed their stallions to saunter back to the shelter of Beirut’s walls was a calculated insult to the army that had come to challenge them. It was too obvious to them that the force Ibelin had mustered—at a cost in gold and effort Bella could only imagine—was too small to really threaten them.
Around her the men of the garrison grew silent and despondent as they too understood the message Filangieri had sent. The Ibelin army might be there—within sight—but it could no more rescue them than had it still been in Cyprus.
Bella turned to retreat to the comparative warmth of the solar, but a shout stopped her.
“They’re coming over!”
“What?” She spun about as Sergeant Gautier and Father Marcus also rushed back to the parapet. Everyone was pointing again as horses plunged down into the swirling waters of the River of Beirut and struggled up the near bank, water dripping from their soaked and muddy trappers and the legs of their riders. It was not the whole army, no more than 20 or 30 knights, but they came. When they reached the firm footing of the road, they started gathering speed. The banners stretched out behind them, and a cheer went up along the ramparts. “Lusignan! Lusignan! The King of Cyprus has come!”
Men lifted their arms in the air and shouted or flung their arms around one another in disbelief.
Bella, however, did not have the breath to cheer. She grasped the edge of the nearest crenel, her fingernails turning white from the pressure. The lead horse was rearing up and then bounding forward and the banner on the lance was the gold and red of Ibelin, not the blue and white of Lusignan. The lead rider leaned forward, his weight on his stirrups as his horse lengthened his stride, leaving the others, including the king, strung out behind him. The king appeared to be kept in check by a second knight wearing the arms of Ibelin.
Almost too late, the Imperial troops realized they were being pursued. In obvious alarm, they started galloping for the gate, the rearmost shouting ahead in panic.
Bella held her breath, without knowing what she wanted. She could hardly want to see men cut down, killed, before her eyes, but how could she not cheer her brother—for there could be no doubt that this was not her father so rashly pursuing the vastly superior army with just a handful of knights. Her father was with either the man beside the King—or, more likely, still on the far side of the river with the bulk of his host. The knight taking such terrible risks, she knew intuitively, could only be her brother Balian.
With a thunderous bang, the city gates were flung shut and the bars dropped into place so heavily that the thud was heard on the castle walls. Balian sat back and threw his lance into the wooden barrier with a shout of some sort.
Bella let out her breath in relief—until she saw Sicilian archers burst onto the roof of the gate tower and take up positions along the rim. Balian couldn’t see from his position on the ground. Around her, the garrison of the citadel started shouting warnings to Balian, but with his great helm over his ears there was no chance he could hear them.
Bella clapped her hands over her eyes unable to bear the thought of watching her brother skewered with arrows. Holy Mary! Please! Please! A cheer from all around her drowned out her prayers, but still Bella didn’t dare look until Father Marcus gently touched her shoulder and assured her. “It’s alright, my lady. He’s out of range now.”
She pulled her hands down to just below her eyes and looked cautiously out. Balian had indeed pulled back out of range, joining the rest of the Ibelin knights and King Henry as they milled about. Yet even as they looked up toward the castle and waved their banners in greeting, Bella wanted to be sick. Was this what the “relief ” of the castle meant? That she would be a witness to her brother or father’s injury or death?
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