Eschiva’s eyes found Aimery. He was on a stone bench with his head in his hands. She nodded to Maria Zoë. “I’ll be fine. Let me go on alone.”
Maria Zoë reluctantly let her go, and stood watching as Eschiva bravely made her way around the cloisters to the bench, sat down beside her broken husband, and put an arm over his shoulders.
Aimery gasped out without even lifting his head: “I’ve failed you, Eschiva. You and the children. I’ve failed completely. I have absolutely nothing. Our child,” he glanced at her distended belly, “conceived in so much hope, will be born in poverty.”
Eschiva didn’t have an answer. All she could do was hold him closer to her. Just as long as he wasn’t divorcing her, she kept thinking, just as long as he wasn’t setting her aside, turning her out like her father had discarded her mother. “We are still together, Aimery,” she squeaked out, so shaken by the way he’d turned his back on her that it came out more like a question.
Aimery sat up straighter and looked into her frightened face. “Eschiva? I’m sorry!” He opened his arms and pulled her into them, clinging to her as much for his own comfort as for hers.
At the far side of the cloisters, John and Balian joined Maria Zoë. Balian waited respectfully for Aimery and Eschiva to finish kissing, but then he started to make his way toward them.
“Balian.” Maria Zoë reached out a hand to stop him, thinking that Aimery and Eschiva needed a little more time.
Already the sound of Balian’s boots on the flagstones had caught Aimery’s attention, and he drew back and sat up straighter. His entire body and face were taut with wary anticipation.
John and Maria Zoë fell in behind Balian, sensing that he must have something important to say.
Balian came to a stop in front of Aimery and Eschiva, and the older man looked up at him grimly, unsure what he should say. Part of him wanted to blame Ibelin for sending him to Cyprus in the first place. He should have stayed and defended his innocence before the High Court. He should never have resigned as Constable. He should—
“Look, Aimery, your idiot brother may have named Geoffrey his heir, but I wouldn’t bet on his chances of ever claiming that inheritance.”
“Why not?” Aimery snapped back, frowning. “What do you mean?”
“Do you honestly think that the men who have spent the better part of two years fighting to gain control of Cyprus are about to relinquish their gains—or claims—to someone who hasn’t been risking his hide with them? My nephew Henri, you can be damned sure, wouldn’t dream of such a thing, not even in a nightmare.”
Aimery’s eyes narrowed, and he slowly withdrew his arm from Eschiva to sit tensely focused on Ibelin. “What are you saying?”
“How many times in the history of this Kingdom have men from the West been the ‘rightful’ heir, only to lose out to men already here? The precedent was set from the very start with the election of Baldwin I. Now is no different. My nephew, Toron, Cheneché, Bethsan, even Barlais—they know you, they trust you, and they respect you. If you want them to recognize you as Guy’s heir, do what Guy, in his stubborn idiocy, wouldn’t do: give them each enough land so they can feel richly rewarded, and keep enough for yourself to win new vassals. This city and Tyre are flooded with men who have lost everything. If you promise them something, anything, just a foothold, they will flood to your banner. They will practically swim across to Cyprus for the chance of a new beginning.” Maria Zoë found herself wondering if her husband was speaking of himself.
Balian continued, “You’ve been a loyal brother, Aimery. Again and again. You backed Guy against your better judgment. You stayed by him on the Horns of Hattin, when you could have broken out with Tripoli or me. You went into captivity with him. You joined him at the siege of Acre. You supported him against Montferrat. And what did he ever give you in return? Nothing. Not one miserable thing. Why, in the name of our ever-loving Christ, should you respect his last wishes?”
“You sincerely think your nephew would back me?”
“For a barony? Henri would back John’s dog!”
Suddenly they were all laughing, and although Aimery growled, “I’m not sure that’s much of a compliment,” his shoulders had squared, and Eschiva could feel the energy surging through his muscles again.
“Let’s discuss this over dinner and wine,” Maria Zoë suggested practically, with an eye on Eschiva.
The little monastery of St. Sebastian only had two guest chambers and most guests took their meals with the brothers in the refectory, but Ibelin asked for wine and food to be brought to his chamber, and John lugged the small table and both chairs from Aimery and Eschiva’s chamber to his father’s, then pulled up a chest for himself. The decision, however, had been made in the cloisters; all that remained was to discuss was details. Georgios quickly sent back to the Storm Bird to bring Magnussen as soon as he appeared, and Ibelin had the monks bring them papyrus, so Aimery and John could give him a better picture of the island, the situation, and what was at stake.
“There’s a very long, narrow peninsula that extends to the east at the end of the Pentadaktylos range. Then along the south coast are three large bays, each with a small port: Famagusta furthest east, then Larnaka, and finally Limassol—the only port that can be called anything more than a fishing village. The west of the island curves around to the north, with a small but ancient town facing due west, Paphos. Then there’s a fairly sharp peninsula and two bays that face northwest, but are practically uninhabited because of the Troodos mountain range that sits here.” Aimery thumped his hand over the western third of his self-drawn map.
“But Troodos has copper and, they say, silver. And there are salt fields near Larnaka and Limassol,” John added eagerly. In his tone of voice Aimery heard confirmation that John had, despite everything, fallen in love with the island as much as he had.
“The forests are so dense, tall, and broad, you could build a thousand ships and hardly notice a tree had been felled,” Aimery added.
“And the wine is as good as at Ibelin, Papa. Truly it is!” John’s enthusiasm made his parents laugh.
Aimery continued with the geography lesson. “Beyond Morphou Bay here in the north there is a sharp peninsula pointing due north; after that the north coast is a long, straight line right to the tip of the Karpas peninsula. The Pentadaktylos comes down almost to the edge of the sea, so there is only a narrow, but incredibly fertile, coastal plain from here to about here, and there are two ports on the north coast, Kyrenia and Karpasia, of which Kyrenia has the smaller but better protected harbor.”
“So, if you divided up the island based on the ports, much as we did here, you’d have baronies at Karpasia, Kyrenia, Paphos, Limassol, Larnaka, and Famagusta.”
“And Salamis. I forgot that. It’s here on the southern shore of the Karpas peninsula. Little more than ruins, really, but a lovely location. It could be revived.”
“That would still leave you this enormous inland area as the royal domain—to be bestowed on worthy vassals at a later date.”
“There’s a problem, Balian,” Aimery pointed out, sitting upright and glancing at Maria Zoë. “Only a king can make barons. Guy was King of Jerusalem, but he was only Lord of Cyprus.”
“But Isaac Comnenus called himself ‘Emperor,’” Maria Zoë pointed out.
“And everyone called him a usurper. Before that, Cyprus was only a province of the Eastern Roman Empire.”
“So was Palestine,” Balian reminded them. “All the states we have established out here were mere provinces of the Eastern Empire before. All you need do is—”
A knock on the door interrupted them, and on their invitation Georgios entered, followed by a tall, sinewy man with a beak-like nose and blond hair streaked with grey that fell down to his shoulders. Ibelin jumped to his feet, and a moment later found himself in the short but powerful embrace of the Norse captain.
“Master Magnussen, I thought you said you were gone for good!” Ibelin exclaimed as he stepped back to get a better look at the Norseman.
“Stinking boring back in Western Ocean and the North Sea. Nothing doing but a little piracy—which, of course, I abjured long ago.”
“I would have thought King Richard could have used your services in his war with King Philip.”
“I tried, but for some reason he prefers English and Scottish crews. Besides, I thought I remembered the climate being better here. I’d forgotten it was an oven worse than hell in summer.”
“Come, join us. Wine, or should I send for ale?”
“The ale here is lousy—I’d forgotten that, too—but still better than grape juice.”
“Georgios?” Ibelin looked to his squire.
“Yes, my lord.” The young man disappeared again.
“So, aside from missing my beautiful face, why did you want to see me, Ibelin?” The Norseman took a seat on the chest John vacated for him.
“You heard that Guy de Lusignan is dead and has named his brother Geoffrey his heir.”
“That’s what this Lusignan said,” the Norseman replied, nodding his head to Aimery almost insultingly, but then softening the gesture by flinging a smile his way. Magnussen had always retained his independence, taking an oath to no man. He had worked closely with Ibelin—not the Lusignans. The latter had been “the enemy” during most of his stay in Outremer, and had it been Aimery rather than John who had asked for passage, he would probably have turned him down.
“Well, for a variety of reasons, we don’t like that solution,” Ibelin noted.
Magnussen grunted and waited, his eyes fixed on Ibelin.
“Geoffrey only campaigned briefly here; he’s not as familiar with the situation, and despite his unquestioned courage, he did not make many friends.”
“He’d sell his own mother to the devil if it suited him. Last I heard he was thinking of betraying King Richard to Philip.”
“What?” John asked, scandalized. After his father and Magnussen, King Richard was the man he admired most in the world.
Balian wasn’t letting himself get distracted, however. He remarked firmly, “We think Aimery would make a better Lord of Cyprus.”
Magnussen looked over at Aimery and then back at Ibelin with slightly raised eyebrows.
Ibelin didn’t explain himself. He simply declared, “Aimery needs to return as soon as possible to establish his claim. It is important that he is well established and recognized before Geoffrey finds out he has been bequeathed a fabulous lordship,” Ibelin explained, only to be taken aback by his wife contradicting him.
“I’m not so sure,” she noted, earning a look of confusion from her husband and son, a scowl from Aimery, and a look of outrage from Eschiva. They all gaped at her, while Magnussen looked amused by her apparent rebellion. Maria Zoë answered their looks by pointing out, “Geoffrey returned to France because he didn’t like Cyprus, remember?”
“Or he didn’t like playing lieutenant to Guy!” Aimery countered, adding bitterly, “It’s an unpleasant and thankless job, I can assure you. Geoffrey didn’t have the temperament for it. Being lord in his own right is something else.”
“Certainly, but Geoffrey will want to weigh his options,” Maria Zoë insisted. “If he thinks he will be welcomed on Cyprus with rapturous relief by devoted followers that is one thing. If he knows he has been rejected by the men in control of the island and that he will have to fight his own brother for it that is something else again.”
“Ah,” Balian caught the drift of his wife’s thoughts. “You’re saying we want Geoffrey to find out that Aimery is staking his claim.”
“Yes; it might help him make, shall we say, the right decision. In fact, I think the sooner he finds out, the better.”
“I can see to that,” Magnussen volunteered. “If you give me a day or two to purchase a cargo of spices, silk, or ivory, I can sail for Cyprus the day after, drop this Lusignan off, and continue back to Marseilles. There we’ll spread the news in every tavern of the city that Aimery has been acclaimed Lord of Cyprus.”
“At what price?” Balian asked evenly. He’d long since learned that Magnussen did most things merely for the sheer fun of it, or the challenge, but he always pretended to be mercenary. It was essential to negotiate a price up front.
“Well,” Magnussen leaned forward to prop his elbows on the table. “Cyprus, as we see here, is an island, and its security, therefore, will depend upon a fleet. I always fancied commanding a whole fleet—not of merchantmen, but of fighting ships. I want to be Admiral of Cyprus.” He looked up and smiled straight at Aimery.
Aimery spluttered with indignation. “For one single voyage?”
Magnussen looked at Ibelin. “Was it only one?”
“It’s a good deal, Aimery,” Balian advised. “You were still in captivity when Magnussen almost single-handedly broke the Saracen blockade of Tyre. If he hadn’t, Tyre would have been lost, but Montferrat never properly thanked him.”
“That man got what he deserved. Almost made me like the Assassins,” Magnussen observed. “Besides, if you don’t take me, you’ll end up being dependent on the Pisans or the Venetians or the Genoese, and they will cut your throat to sell you your own blood or sell you your own p—sorry, my ladies.” He stopped himself with a bow of his upper body in the direction of Maria Zoë and Eschiva.
Aimery recognized that he was in no position to haggle. Of course, he could take passage with another ship, but the Norse snecka was one of the fleetest ships he’d ever seen, much less set foot upon, and the captain was an independent man beholden to no one. Furthermore, the Dowager Queen had a point: if the news reached Geoffrey that Cyprus wasn’t really his before he’d had a chance to get accustomed to the idea of being Guy’s heir, Geoffrey might prefer to stay in Poitou. He might opt to stake his fortune on playing off Capet against Plantagenet. It was a game Geoffrey understood well, and was likely to seem more certain of success than another adventure in Outremer.
Aimery signaled his consent by adding, “Be sure you also spread the word about how precarious the situation is. Stress that even the militant orders have been attacked and that no one is safe.”
“Horrible place! Worse than Sicily!” Magnussen answered with a straight face. “Ship was nearly swamped by people desperate to escape the carnage. I wouldn’t be surprised if all the Franks on the island are already dead—slaughtered in their beds.”
The men laughed, leaving the monk delivering Magnussen’s ale completely discomfited. How could good Christian men laugh about such a state of affairs?
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