Ralph of Tiberius pounced on Balian before he had even dismounted. “Ibelin! Thank God you’ve made it.” He grabbed Balian’s bridle and held his horse for him as he dropped down onto the cobbles of the courtyard. Then in a low voice Ralph murmured, “Isabella must marry immediately! We need a king to take command of the Germans and confront al-Adil. We can’t afford to take her grief into account. Too much is at stake.”
Balian gave the young man a reproachful look and noted, “I’ve only just arrived, Tiberius. Let me at least speak to my wife and her daughter.”
A groom emerged to take his horse, and Balian turned over the reins. He stepped back to tell his squires to see to his baggage, and then started immediately up the steps. Tiberius, however, clung to his side and continued speaking in a low, urgent voice. “My lord, don’t mistake me as callous. I have the deepest sympathy for the Queen. No one would be gentler with her, yet more forceful with our enemies.”
Balian stopped in mid-stride to turn and stare at the young nobleman. “Did you just suggest what I think you did? That you would be a suitable consort for Queen Isabella?”
“Why wouldn’t I be? I’m a prince of Galilee,” Ralph answered.
“A land we lost in 1187,” Ibelin retorted briskly, before adding more wearily, “along with Ibelin and Ramla. I know. There’s no shame in being landless, but the Queen needs a consort who is—”
The Lord of Caesarea, coming down the stairs, recognized Balian just as he came abreast of him, and at once stopped to grab him by the elbow. “Ibelin! Thank God! We need to call the High Court together.”
“Of course,” Balian answered with a glance at Tiberius. “But first I wish to see my lady and my stepdaughter the Queen.”
Balian continued up the stairs, but Caesarea turned to flank him on his left, while Tiberius still clung to his right side. “Al-Adil has laid siege to Jaffa,” Caesarea reported, pacing himself to Balian.
“And the Germans damn near burned down the synagogue,” Ralph of Tiberius chimed in. “If your son John hadn’t put a sword up the Bishop of Hildesheim’s butt—”
“What?” Balian gasped, turning on Ralph in shock.
“Just a figure of speech, my lord,” Ralph excused himself. “The German troops were running riot, helping themselves to whatever they wanted—and not just in the Jewish quarter—while the German knights and barons sat around ignoring it all. John stormed in and somehow convinced them not only to intervene, but to move their troops outside the city.”
Balian was astonished—and very pleased.
“Jaffa’s the bigger problem,” Caesarea countered doggedly, with a frown at Tiberius. “Al-Adil still has some fifty thousand troops in the field, and the last we heard Barlais had sailed down to Jaffa with his wife and God knows what else, but certainly not troops. It was his pleas for help that forced Champagne to hire the Italian mercenaries. He was trying to address them from the balcony when it gave way under him.”
Ibelin frowned. Aimery’s selection of Barlais as the man to take control of Jaffa for the Lusignans had been dictated by the fact that Barlais had been Geoffrey’s man and seemed to feel he was entitled to act as the Lusignans’ lieutenant there. Aimery had also pointed out that Barlais had made more than enough enemies on Cyprus, and was better occupied elsewhere. Still, Balian wasn’t surprised to find he was no match for al-Adil. Barlais was a sergeant—no matter what title you dressed him up in.
“Can’t we send the Germans down to relieve Jaffa?” Ibelin asked Caesarea.
“Who are you suggesting should send them down?”
This answer produced dead silence. Ibelin looked from one man to the other, and they both shook their heads mutely while not meeting his eye. Not a good sign.
Before they could say another word, however, the Archbishop of Nazareth emerged out of a door they were passing. He caught sight of Ibelin and exclaimed, “Thank God you’re here, Ibelin! You need to summon the High Court at once! We have many urgent decisions to make! May I send out the summons?”
“Of course,” Ibelin answered, surprised no summons had been issued already.
The Archbishop turned as if to take immediate action, but then stopped himself and turned back to lecture Ibelin (rather pompously, Balian thought): “The Kingdom has rarely been in a more precarious situation, my lord. You have no idea how close we came to losing the battle to al-Adil—right here outside our very gates.” He gestured dramatically in the general direction of the Nazareth Gate. “The Germans would all have run away. It was the citizens of Acre, rallying to Champagne late in the day, who enabled us to hold their attacks and finally scatter them with a last charge.”
“The Chancellor speaks the truth,” Hugh of Tiberius spoke up hotly. He had come out of apparently nowhere to stand beside his brother. “The value of these German troops is far less than what we hoped.”
“They’re only good for terrorizing civilians!” his brother Ralph scoffed.
Ibelin looked from one to the other in dismay and then tried to continue, but now all three men kept pace with him, and he was next waylaid by the Lord of Arsur. “Ibelin! At last! We need to summon the High Court.”
“Yes, I just told the Chancellor to issue the summons,” Ibelin assured him, adding in a tone tinged with exasperation, “I expected the summons to go out before now.”
“On whose orders?” Arsur asked, astonished. “You are the Queen’s closest male relative. Or your son John, I suppose. . . .”
“No matter. It’s done now. Although it looks as if most of the tenants-in-chief are already here,” Ibelin noted with a nod to Pagan of Haifa, who had joined the crowd of men around him.
“Sidon hasn’t shown up, and Jaffa is now held by Lusignan. We’re also missing half the bishops,” Haifa at once joined the conversation.
“What about the rear-tenants?”
“I haven’t taken a count, but we could summon them to the Cathedral at noon tomorrow and see who shows up.”
Ibelin nodded again, still somewhat astonished to find all these men awaiting his orders. While it was true he was arguably the most senior baron in the Kingdom, he had not imagined that the others would be so passive in his absence. No doubt the unexpectedness of Champagne’s death had left them dazed and confused. No one had been prepared for a young king in the best of health to be suddenly taken from them.
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