The day was warming up by the time the Lord of Beirut set out from Acre’s north gate with nearly 100 men—and Balian de Sidon as well as Eudes de Montbelliard. Both former baillies had spontaneously agreed to ride with him to underline their outrage over a treacherous attack in the midst of negotiations. They had not advanced more than two or three miles when they encountered the first clump of soldiers fleeing Casal Imbert. Beyond, they could see other groups of men, the vast majority on foot, although here or there they saw a man on an unsaddled horse among them. These disorganized troops cleared the road immediately when they saw the band of what appeared to be fighting men led by Beirut with his banner flapping from the lance held by Lorenzo.
“I’ll ride over and see if I can find any of your sons, my lord,” the sergeant nearest to Beirut offered.
Beirut stopped him. “Don’t bother. You will not find my sons among the deserters. They would not dare to flee so far.” Then, on second thought, he modified his statement, adding, “at least not in a direction where they might run into me!” His face was so grim that no one dared contradict him, much less laugh.
After another couple of miles, they encountered another band of nearly two score men trudging southwards. Many of these men had wounds, and while they looked less than completely armed, they appeared to have put up at least some resistance.
One of these men was a sergeant with long years of service to Beirut and at the sight of his lord he broke into tears. “They’re all lost, my lord!” He burst out. “Your fine sons! So brave! All dead!” He started sobbing helplessly.
Beirut felt as if he’d been kicked in the gut, and every muscle of his body tightened to fight the pain. Defensively, he snapped, “And what of it? That’s how knights die! Defending their honor.” Inwardly, he was trying to fathom the loss: Baldwin, Hugh, and Guy, all at once.
Toward midday they were within sight of Casal Imbert. On their left, the sea was empty, only the charred wrecks of the boats remained on the shore. The field where the Ibelin army had camped was likewise abandoned, albeit dotted with the black circles marking campfires and littered with broken or discarded equipment. Strikingly, except for some collapsed and partially burned tents at the periphery, all the tents were gone—evidence of systematic and comprehensive looting. There were no horses to be seen either, and at least from the distance, there appeared to be few corpses.
That was good, Beirut assured himself, hoping against all rationality that the debacle had not been as great as it initially seemed. Maybe the Sicilians had taken prisoners, rather than slaughtering knights? Maybe his sons were still alive and could be ransomed?
“My lord!” His squire Guiscard interrupted his thoughts.
Beirut looked over without speaking for fear some of his inner agitation would escape.
“Look at that hill! Doesn’t it look like men are gathered up there?”
Beirut followed his squire’s finger, frowning. On a hill to the east of the road there did indeed appear to be a large group of men, quite a few of them mounted. Furthermore, they appeared to be moving about in increasing excitement. Indeed, even as he watched, they formed up into a sloppy conroi and started charging down from the hill, not in the direction of Beirut, but to the north. Puzzled, Beirut squinted to see what they were charging at and only then realized that the enemy rear guard was still in sight, withdrawing to the north.
From Beirut’s perspective, it was obvious that the uncoordinated attack by men mounted bareback and armed with an odd collection of weapons was futile. He turned to Guiscard and ordered, “ride over there and tell the fools to leave off their attacks. The enemy has won the field and the day. The best we can do is pick up the pieces and take stock.”
Guiscard nodded and galloped away.
Beirut continued doggedly toward Casal Imbert itself. Knowing that King Henry had nearly been captured inside the town, he feared this was where they would find the bulk of the casualties.
The residents were barricaded inside their houses. Only the sound of muffled barking behind closed doors greeted them as they advanced into the narrow warren of streets. When they at last emerged at the central square, they found arrows littered on the cobblestones. Blood was pooled in the cracks and smeared over the surface in a half dozen places, but there were no corpses. Someone had cleared away the dead and injured, but it was impossible to know who. Beirut continued toward the manor house, where the gate hung on broken hinges.
Before they could enter, however, horses clattered into the square behind them and Beirut recognized the Lord of Karpas and Baldwin on the lead horses. Karpas was splattered with mud and blood, and his surcoat was in tatters. Baldwin looked less tattered, but he was hunched sideways in his saddle, evidently staunching the bleeding in a wound to his side.
As these two riders came abreast of Beirut, Baldwin gasped out. “Did the King make it? Is he safe?”
“Yes,” Beirut answered, looking from one man to the other. Then setting his eyes on Baldwin he asked, “Where are your brothers, your cousin?”
“Guy fought like a knight, Father, and he’s fine.” Looking over his shoulder he gestured, and Guy jogged forward on a strange, bareback horse to grin at his father. Beirut drew a deep, ragged breath of relief. Meanwhile, Baldwin continued, “Jacques was a paragon of valor until he took a wound to his thigh. Fortunately, we were able to pull him out of the fight and he’s inside the manor.”
Beirut nodded and waited expectantly. Baldwin looked down in silence.
“And Hugh?” Beirut pressed.
Baldwin swallowed hard and shook his head. “I don’t know, Father. He sent Guy to warn the King. When Guy left him, he was armed and preparing to mount his destrier and Elias was with him. That’s the last any of us have seen or heard of him.”
Beirut did not reply to these words, instead he turned and guided his horse into the courtyard of the manor house. Here he dismounted, and Lorenzo jumped down to take the reins of his stallion as he continued without a thought into the manor. He went unerringly to the hall and found the wounded lying side-by-side, some on pallets, many without. The women and servants of the manor were doing their best to look after the injured, but they were clearly overwhelmed by the numbers and severity of many of the wounds.
When he found his nephew Jacques, Beirut went down on his heels beside him. The youth struggled to sit up a little straighter, his face white from loss of blood and covered with a sheen of sweat that said more about the pain he was in than the boy could. “We’ll send for the Hospitallers at once,” Beirut assured him. “Baldwin said you were a paragon of valor.”
Jacques tried to smile, without success, and Beirut patted his shoulder. “I’ll have Guiscard take Montgisard, so he gets there faster.” Even as he spoke, he looked over his shoulder, found his squire, and ordered him to ride to the Hospitaller castle at Manuet, which was closer than Acre.
He then turned on Baldwin. “Let me see that wound of yours.”
“It’s not mortal, my lord.”
“I said, let me see it!” Beirut was in no mood to be contradicted, least of all by one of his sons, and Baldwin submitted.
Beirut did not like what he saw. Baldwin had a deep puncture wound just below the ribcage. His lungs were evidently fine, but he had been bleeding profusely and smelled rank. “Lorenzo, bring clean water, absolutely clean, straight from the well, and try to find fresh linens—even if you have to tear them off one of the beds. Meanwhile, I want a report of what happened here.”
Karpas, Caesarea, and the others spilled out the story of what had happened, each from his own perspective. They spoke disjointedly because they had been scattered about—Baldwin and Jacques with the King, Karpas and Caesarea in another residence, others elsewhere. It was clear there had been no proper watch, nor any system for raising the alarm. Karpas even admitted that he’d been warned that a counterattack was on the way and dismissed it as kitchen gossip. “I will never forgive myself!” he concluded in an agony of guilt and self-recrimination.
Beirut could see by the state of his armor that he had fought with his typical ferocity once the fight had been joined, but what folly to dismiss a rumor? Still, he bit his tongue and uttered no rebuke. At the Battle of Nicosia, Karpas had saved his life, and hadn’t he refused to heed Karpas’ warning that the Emperor was a treacherous snake? Hadn’t he ignored Balian’s warning that the Emperor intended to destroy them as a family? Oh, yes, far too often he had ignored warnings, and because of that Balian and Baldwin had been tortured; his brother-in-law, the old Lord of Caesarea, had been killed; and he had nearly lost Beirut and Bella.
No, he had no right to make recriminations. He simply asked that those who were not injured make a count of survivors and start calculating casualties.
“The Sicilians took some knights captive,” Caesarea reported. “If knights surrendered, they didn’t slaughter them. They bound their hands behind their backs and took them to the rear. During the second assault after dawn, I saw five or six knights taken that way.”
“They were also collecting the horses,” Baldwin noted from his pallet on the floor. “That’s partly why they took so long to retreat. They rounded up all the loose horses and they took the Genoese ships in tow as well, after capturing the crews.”
“What crews were on the ships, at least,” Caesarea scoffed. “The bulk of the Genoese were having fun in the taverns and brothels. They’d left only a skeletal crew on board, who were easily overwhelmed.”
“We can assume they will not have cleared away our dead, however,” Sir Anseau noted. “We should assume that anyone missing was either taken prisoner or fled and is now safely in Acre.”
Beirut nodded at that. “Then let us scour the town for dead and wounded. I want my son’s body. If you find it, bring it here.”
Baldwin started to get up as his father turned to leave, but Beirut gestured for him to stay where he is. “Rest! One dead son is enough this day. You don’t need to kill yourself as well.”
In the ward, Beirut took Guiscard’s gelding and swung up into the saddle. He was considerably taller than his squire, but rather than adjust the stirrups, he kicked his feet free and rode without. In his mind, his memories of Hugh were colliding with one another, blending and competing for his attention. The third son, Hugh had always been in the shadow of his elder brothers. Baldwin had carved out his place by being the opposite and the rival of Balian, but Hugh had tried to please them all.
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