“Don’t go through with this, Eustace,” Fulques de Montaigu, Bishop of Limassol and the younger brother of the Archbishop of Nicosia, warned. The brothers were in the sacristy while the canons of the cathedral prepared to carry out the excommunication of Balian d’Ibelin and Eschiva de Montbéliard. The excited murmurs of the canons seeped through the open door as did the unsteady light from the choir lit by dozens of candles that would soon be extinguished.
“At the stroke of midnight!” The Archbishop replied tartly.
“Why?” His brother asked in exasperation.
“For fornication! For incest! For living as man and wife and knowing each other carnally, despite being cousins!” The Archbishop’s tone of outrage increased with each charge, but it left his younger brother cold.
“They have a dispensation, and you know it! So why are you going through with this farce?” Without giving his brother time to answer, Fulques continued, “What harm does this marriage do to anyone? Eschiva’s been widowed nearly two years now.”
“Poor Gerard!” The Archbishop answered melodramatically, but his acting was lost on his younger brother.
“Poor Gerard never wanted to be married in the first place! He made that very plain to all of us—and no doubt to his wife as well. She’s a young woman, who has every right to marry again and start a new life.”
“Maybe, but not with her cousin! Have you forgotten this is the very man she was flirting with before her wedding?”
“Flirting? All I saw were young people having fun together at a banquet. And don’t forget that Guerin defended her more than once against your suspicions.”
“Guerin was blinded by her gift with paintbrushes!” The Archbishop dismissed Eschiva’s artistic talent and their eldest brother, the Master of the Hospital. “I tell you, she has lusted after Balian d’Ibelin ever since she first laid eyes on him.”
“Then it is well they are married,” Fulques replied practically. “Except for the fact that her aunt was married to his uncle, there is no impediment to their marriage.”
“Don’t forget that her great-grandfather was his great-uncle,” the Archbishop insisted primly.
His brother only rolled his eyes and remarked. “No nobleman in Outremer can marry into his own class without there being a common ancestor somewhere. That hasn’t stopped other marriages and it shouldn’t stop this one. You’re being obstinate! All this does is turn the Ibelins against you! Surely you’ve noticed they make better friends than enemies?”
“I’ve noticed they are very powerful lords, but that does not put them above the law of God! As a bishop, I would have expected you to know that!” he sniped at his brother.
“And as an Archbishop I would have expected you to know that secular lords are the greatest patrons of the Church and their good will is to our benefit,” his brother shot back, adding, “nor is it wise to tear up a legal document signed and sealed by the Patriarch of Jerusalem! Just what do you think the Patriarch is going to think when he finds out?”
“The Patriarch is already out of favor with the Pope,” the Archbishop answered airily, reaching for his miter and preparing to go out into the Church as the bells started to chime. Condescendingly, he added, “the Emperor is in and the Patriarch is out—precisely for opposing the Hohenstaufen so vigorously.”
“No one was more outraged by the Emperor’s behavior and his claims to be God’s representative on earth than you were!” Fulques reminded his older brother in exasperation.
“The Hohenstaufen has repented of his sins and been welcomed back into the embrace of the Church by his Holiness,” the Archbishop intoned pompously.
“So, the chameleon is wearing papal colors today. Does that make you trust him?”
“That is not the point,” the Archbishop lectured. “The point is that His Holiness has restored Frederick to his favor and expects the rest of us to do the same. Gerold is being stubborn.”
“Gerold is being honest and sticking to his convictions,” Fulques countered emphatically. He personally had a great deal more respect for the Patriarch of Jerusalem than his ambitious and grasping brother.
“Gerold is deeply discredited for backing the Ibelins,” the Archbishop enunciated very clearly to be sure his brother understood him.
“Is that what this is about?” Fulques asked incredulously. “You’re intentionally signaling to the Pope that you are now against the Ibelins too?”
The Archbishop smiled patronizingly at his younger brother. “Light dawns at last.” He turned to leave the sacristy as the noise of voices grew. People were getting impatient.
Fulques held his brother back. “Is that it? Truly? You’re trying to curry papal favor by attacking the Ibelins—and consciously discrediting the Patriarch into the bargain?” The Archbishop refused to meet his brother’s eyes and tried to shake him off. Fulques dug in and spun him around. “Answer me! Is that what this is about? You want to discredit Patriarch Gerold?”
“He is too partisan.” The Archbishop answered tartly and yanked free of Fulques’ grip.
“You want to take his place, don’t you?” Fulques hissed to his brother’s back before the senior prelate could step out into the ambulatory. “Archbishop isn’t good enough for you anymore, is it?”
The Archbishop ignored his younger brother and swept out into the ambulatory surrounding the choir, his robes flapping, and the gold brocade glinting in the candlelight—and froze.
The ambulatory was crowded, but not with clergy. There were at least a hundred armored men here, armed men, their swords belted at their hips.
The archbishop’s blood ran cold. The lurid descriptions of St. Thomas of Becket’s murder ran through his head. They had bashed in his skull as he clung to a side altar—like the one just beyond the men in gleaming chain mail.
Some part of his brain asked whether it was worth his life just to excommunicate a stupid girl and her lover, and another part of his brain noted he was unlikely to win a martyr’s crown, even if they killed him. Becket had been upholding the independence of the Church, while all he was doing was being insubordinate to the Patriarch. He would certainly be dead. . . .
But any man who laid a hand in violence upon an archbishop was certainly damned, he reminded himself. If he reminded them of that, surely, they would not do him any harm? Then again, it hadn’t saved St. Thomas. . . .
There was a commotion and the armed men shuffled and squeezed together to make way for another man. This man was broader than most, and he wore his coif up over his head, framing his hideously scarred face. It was not Ibelin, as the Archbishop had hoped. If it had been Sir Balian, he could have raged at him and covered him with insults and curses for his sins, but it was not. It was Sir Anseau de Brie, Lord of Karpas.
As far as the Archbishop knew, this man had not committed any great sins—at least not recently. There were rumors, of course. Whispers of nuns ravaged and churches plundered, but from long ago, and the victims had been Greek, in any case. In recent years, the Lord of Karpas had been an exemplary Christian—unless you counted the fact that he had joined the Ibelin rebellion against the Imperial Baillies. The problem with that was that the Ibelins had won, and King Henry called them liberators rather than traitors. . . .
“My lord archbishop!” Karpas opened and his voice boomed in the arches overhead and echoed down upon those assembled. An uneasy stillness fell upon the church. “Such a surprise to find you here at this hour. I would have expected you to be abed.”
Somewhere at the back of the crowd of soldiers, someone chuckled.
“I think you know very well why I am here,” the Archbishop answered. He tried to sound firm, but even to his own ears his voice was unnaturally high and squeaky. He was afraid. He was desperately afraid. The men around him stank of blood. In his brain he heard the Bishop of Lydda describing the Battle of Hattin when the Saracens had hacked the Archbishop of Acre to pieces as he clung to the True Cross.
“Some clerks were saying something stupid about an excommunication, but I’m sure you, my lord, wouldn’t take action against a young man who obtained a papal dispensation and the blessings of the Knights Templar.” Karpas made sure his voice carried throughout the unfinished church, setting off a flutter of whispers among the clerics crowded into the choir. “Would you?” The question was very pointed.
The bells had fallen silent, but the candles still burned brightly. They made the Archbishop’s robes glitter—but also made the chain mail of Karpas’ men gleam. The Archbishop could not bring himself to answer; his throat seemed to have constricted to the point where he could hardly breathe.
“You look ill, my lord.” Karpas declared in what could have passed for a concerned tone. “You have been overworking yourself, no doubt. Praying at all odd hours of the night, as we can see. You need to rest. Take time to reflect on God far away from your own onerous duties. A pilgrimage, perhaps. To Santiago de Compostela?” Karpas’ men chuckled at that.
Karpas was mocking him, but the soldier had inadvertently given the Archbishop an idea. Rather than doing something here and waiting for the news to filter back to Rome, he would take the news to Rome himself! He would argue his case before the Pope, and not incidentally impress the pontiff with his intelligence, dedication, and reliability, of course. Yes, that was the far better course of action.
He smiled. “My dear lord of Karpas, you are so right. It would indeed be best if I took a break from my duties here. I—I am—tired” (of lusting girls, spoiled lordlings, and men like you, he added mentally). Turning on his heel, the Archbishop swept back into the sacristy clutching his dignity around him. He slammed the door in Karpas’ face.
“Wise.” His younger brother commented.
“Yes. I’m going to Rome! I’m going to take this case to Rome and see what happens then!”
Fulques shook his head but held his counsel. There was no knowing what mood or policy the pope would be pursuing months from now, or if he would even be alive. Gregory IX was not a young man. For today, Fulques was glad his brother had avoided doing something they might both later regret.
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