“Please, my lord,” John pleaded earnestly with his father. He was dressed in his chain-mail hauberk and straining to look as mature as possible. “I want to go with Lord Aimery. It’s my place. As his squire.”
Balian frowned. Watching his eldest son grow into a resourceful, responsible, and yet optimistic young man was one of his greatest joys. He did not like being separated from John at all, but up to now he’d been in Acre, only a few hours away. Balian had been able to visit him, or call him home, on short notice. Cyprus was different. Cyprus was across the water, a strange and unfamiliar place. He knew Aimery would do his best to look out for John, but ultimately they were both at the mercy of Guy de Lusignan—the last man on earth Balian trusted.
“Has Lord Aimery asked you to go with him?” Balian growled, preparing to give the former Constable a piece of his mind.
“No, he didn’t. He told me I was released from his service, but I—I told him I wanted to go with him.” John stumbled a little over his words.
Balian knew his son well, and by his reaction quickly guessed he had already pledged himself to Aimery. “Did you give him your word?”
John swallowed guiltily, but stood his ground. “Yes, my lord.”
“You had no right to do that without my permission,” Balian reminded his son sharply.
“My lord—Papa—Lord Aimery’s completely alone! You know how much Guy hates him. He’s as likely to throw Lord Aimery out of his court as Champagne did—”
“Yes, exactly, so what good will you being there do?” Balian retorted dismissively.
To his father’s astonishment, John had a ready answer. Meeting his father’s eye, John declared firmly, “I can make sure his armor glistens and his spurs gleam and ensure that no one can sneer at him for a beggar. I can show him the respect he deserves, and in so doing shame them. Most of all, I can remind them of where you stand, my lord. I can remind them that the Lord of Ibelin holds Aimery de Lusignan in greater honor than either claimant to the crown of Jerusalem.”
Balian caught his breath and held it. When he let it out it was with a sense of rueful respect. “If you don’t master the sword and lance, John, you can make your living in the courts.”
“Does that mean I can go with Lord Aimery?” John jumped at the unspoken shift in his father’s stance.
“Yes, damn it. It means you may go with him, but don’t think I can’t come after you! If I have any reason to think you’re not safe, not keeping good company, or not remembering your duty to God, I will haul you back to Caymont and make you dig irrigation ditches with me!”
John broke into a smile of relief and excitement. He flung his arms around his father with a heartfelt, “Thank you, father! You won’t regret this! Wait and see—Lord Aimery plans to demand land from his brother, and when he does, he’ll reward me, too. We’ll have something for Philip and a dowry for Margaret. I promise you, Father, I’ll make our family richer and stronger!”
Balian shook his head at so much youthful optimism and enthusiasm, but held his son tight for a moment before stepping back with sigh of resignation and capitulation to warn, “You’re very young, John. You have a lot to learn, and not all of what you need to learn will be pleasant. Whatever happens, remember who you are: that the blood of the Eastern Roman Emperors runs in your veins.”
John sobered immediately and looked at his father squarely and earnestly. “I won’t forget that; but even more, I won’t forget that I am the son of Balian d’Ibelin, the man who saved the people of Jerusalem.”
The unexpected blow almost felled his father. He could only defend himself by embracing his son a second time in gratitude and pride.
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