Humphrey was not unhappy. Indeed, in some ways he had never been happier. The monks hardly spoke, so he was not plagued with questions, critique, or even inanities. In the isolated little monastery there were no problems, no crises, no threats, no risks, nothing but peace. One heard Mass five times a day, and in between one ate, slept, and did household chores like cleaning, tending the kitchen garden, preparing meals, and darning clothes. The monks here spun and wove their own cloth. They also grew vegetables and raised ducks and chickens. Humphrey was not confronted by his failure here—until he looked up from scattering feed to the cackling and fluttering chickens and saw his former father-in-law coming toward him.
In his astonishment he exclaimed, “Uncle Balian!” It was a form of address that he’d picked up from Isabella when they were still children imprisoned at Kerak under the iron fist of his stepfather, Reynald de Châtillon. He had not used it since that horrible day in Acre when Ibelin had turned his back on him. All because he’d supported Lusignan’s usurpation in 1186.
It made no sense that he was here in this isolated Greek monastery.
Ibelin started visibly at being called “Uncle Balian,” but then his face softened and he came forward more quickly. “Humphrey, I hardly recognized you in those robes.”
It was true Humphrey was dressed as a monk, but that was not the reason Balian had failed to recognize him. Balian had not immediately realized he was facing Humphrey because Toron looked twice his age. He was thin, haggard, frail, and losing his hair.
“Are you here—because of me?” Humphrey asked in disbelief. When Father Andronikos said his “friends” had not forgotten him, he had not once thought of his former father-in-law. Aimery de Lusignan, even Henri de Brie, but never Balian.
“Yes. Father Neophytos has released you to me. You can come back to Paphos with me. If we leave now, we should be back before nightfall.”
“Paphos?” Humphrey asked.
“Yes; my lady is there. She will be very relieved to see you safe and sound.”
“Isabella’s mother?” Humphrey asked, dazed.
“Yes,” Ibelin assured him, beginning to think Humphrey was not right in the head.
Humphrey shook his head. He couldn’t bear the thought of facing the Dowager Queen. She had been the one who talked Isabella into turning on him. She had been the one who told Isabella that she must choose between her crown and her husband. And even worse. Humphrey instinctively took a step backwards, away from Ibelin. Isabella, he was thinking, probably told her mother that he had never consummated their marriage. The Dowager Queen knew he had failed to fulfill his marital duties. The others might suspect—they might call him a sodomist in their ignorance—but she knew the truth.
“You cannot think that my lady holds anything against you.” Ibelin tried to reason with Humphrey, dismayed by his reaction.
Humphrey shook his head ambiguously, and then announced, “I don’t want to leave. I am happy here.”
Ibelin frowned slightly and glanced over his shoulder at Georgios. His squire could only shake his head to indicate he was as perplexed as his lord.
“I should have been a monk!” Humphrey burst out in an unintended confession. He had not really thought about it before this moment—but suddenly, confronted with the choice between staying with the monks at this isolated monastery and returning to the pressures and humiliations of his former life, he realized that it was before he came here that he’d worn the wrong clothes. He had played the wrong role his whole life.
“I was never good at fighting,” he reminded Ibelin. And chastity, he added silently, suited him better than marriage. His failings in the bedchamber had always disappointed Isabella. They had turned her against him. If he had not been expected to consummate their marriage, they could have remained best friends, just as when they were still children. To Ibelin he said defiantly, “You never valued my strengths—that I could read and write in three languages, that I had read the works of the ancients, that I could write poetry and play instruments. . . .”
“You are wrong, Humphrey,” Balian answered solemnly. “I did—and do—value your intelligence and your studiousness. I always defended you, even to others, as a good soul. What I could not condone was that you should become king—not after you betrayed us at Nablus. You bear the blame for Hattin, for the loss of Jerusalem, for the slaughter of thousands and the enslavement of many more—”
“DO YOU THINK I DON’T KNOW THAT?” Humphrey shouted at him. “Do you think there is a night that I sleep in peace? You have no idea of my nightmares! I had to watch them slaughtering the Templars and Hospitallers! They haunt me constantly! I spend half my waking hours begging their forgiveness. And the forgiveness of God.”
They stared at one another for a moment, and then Ibelin took a deep breath and nodded. “If that is so, then it is indeed best that you stay here where you can pray in peace—assuming you truly feel safe here?”
“I have rarely felt so safe, or so at peace, in all my life,” Humphrey answered, so sincerely he sounded almost angry.
Ibelin nodded. “Then, if that is what you want, I will leave you here. I must return to Nicosia to bring word to Aimery of what we must do to bring peace to this island.”
Humphrey nodded. “Yes. That is what I want.” He sounded defiant, even a little petulant, as he declared this, and in his eyes was a challenge, as if he dared Ibelin to contradict him.
Balian, however, with an inward wince of contrition, recognized that it was guilt, not captivity, that had ravaged Humphrey’s young face and body. As he recognized that, he felt the anger he had carried with him for far too long seep away like melting snow. As his anger dissipated, his heart softened as well. It was past time to forgive Humphrey for his betrayal.
Balian crossed the distance between them. Before Humphrey knew what was happening, he embraced him. “I am sorry that you were your father’s only son,” he told Humphrey earnestly. “Sorry you were forced to bear a cross too heavy for you. I have judged you too harshly, and I ask you to forgive me for that. I should have been more understanding.” He paused to let the words sink in before adding, “I will tell Isabella that you are at last where you belong, and at peace. It will be a comfort to her, because she loves you still.”
“Truly?” Humphrey asked, brightening at the mere thought.
“Truly,” Balian told him, drawing back to look him in the eye. It was, he thought, the least he could do for a young man who had suffered far too much only for being what he was, rather than what he should have been.
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