Beirut looked at his son and took a deep breath. “We need to talk about your excommunication for marrying Lady Eschiva.” Balian nodded, his face stiff, but he said nothing, so Beirut continued. “There is no question this is political, Balian. I know that, you know that, everyone knows that. This is a political excommunication carried out by the pope in accordance with the Emperor’s wishes, and it is intended to hurt me. You and Eschiva are only the innocent victims caught in the crossfire. I can’t tell you how sorry I am about that. Do you know if Eschiva has heard the news?”
“Do you know how she reacted?”
“Not specifically, but she has sent me word that she will not renounce me—anymore than I will her.” Balian added, his expression becoming openly belligerent. “Neither she nor I accept this ridiculous, as you say, political dissolution of a marriage that is valid in the eyes of God.”
“Balian! Don’t blaspheme! No man knows the mind of God.”
“I vowed before Christ to keep and protect Lady Eschiva until death. The pope’s desire to lick Frederick Hohenstaufen’s ass doesn’t change that,” Balian lashed back.
“Without a papal dispensation, the marriage is invalid, no matter what you swore before an altar.”
“We had a papal dispensation—one you got for us from our friend Gerold, Patriarch of Jerusalem and Papal Legate. Do you think God is as fickle as Pope Gregory?”
Beirut took a deep breath. “I understand your bitterness, Balian, and I promise I will do all in my power to get His Holiness to rethink this—provided we can restore King Henry to his rightful place and expel the Emperor’s men from Cyprus. If we succeed in securing Cyprus for King Henry, he has promised us rich rewards from the lands of the traitors, who he will ask the High Court to condemn. With Beirut back under our control, our estates on Cyprus secure, and new sources of revenue as well, we’ll be in a position to petition the pope to reconsider your case.”
Balian just raised his eyebrows.
“I’m not suggesting that you abandon Lady Eschiva altogether,” Beirut hastened to assure him. “If you and Lady Eschiva remain committed to one another, I’m prepared to fight for the dispensation. After all, as you said, Pope Gregory appears to change his attitude toward of the Hohenstaufen rather frequently and abruptly. If the Hohenstaufen can go from being the devil incarnate to a beloved son of the Church in a matter of months, he can transition back just as easily. We will watch for the right opportunity to sway His Holiness’ opinion back in your favor, and I will find the right cleric to speak for us at the curia. But for now, until we have secured victory in Cyprus and before we have recovered our financial losses, I must ask you to respect this papal order.”
“What do you mean? That even though we all agree that I was legally married to Eschiva, that I should be married to Eschiva, and I will be married to Eschiva later, that I’m supposed to pretend not to be married to her?”
“What I’m asking is that you comply with the papal ban in separating from her and no longer claiming to be her husband in order to be restored to the community of Christ. We can’t keep this excommunication secret—certainly not after we set foot on Cyprus where the Archbishop of Nicosia is one of the primary proponents of the excommunication, not to say the author of it. Did you tell anyone about it in Beirut, by the way?”
“Only Bella. But the men with me in Tripoli know. They were there when the Patriarch of Antioch handed me the ban, and we were expelled from the Temple and refused lodging by all the other religious houses in Tripoli because of it. I had to explain to them what was happening. I said they could leave my service, but they all refused.”
Beirut nodded. “That is to their credit—and yours. You have won their loyalty, and that is no mean thing. I am impressed. But they are all men who know you well, or your own vassals. How can I ask men who hardly know you, indeed, men who do not know you at all, to fight in the company of an excommunicate?”
Balian was silent.
“We need to win this war, Balian. You know that.”
“We can’t afford to weaken our cause by asking men to endanger their souls on the eve of war and combat by expecting them to give comfort and share company with an excommunicate. We are very much weaker than our opponents are, as it is. If we lose even a handful of knights because they do not want to fight alongside, much less under the command of, an excommunicated knight, then it might fatally tip the scales against us. Just a dozen knights less than we have now, and we might not have enough. I can’t risk that.” Beirut paused, giving Balian a chance to say something, but when his son said nothing, he concluded. “I trust that my eldest son and heir will not endanger the entire enterprise and young King Henry’s chances of regaining his rightful throne for the sake of his own desires.”
As he finished, Beirut briefly laid a hand on Balian’s shoulder. Then he turned and descended the ladder back to the main deck, leaving Balian to search his conscience alone.
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