The door fell shut with a loud clunk, and Aimery shot the bolt. “You know,” he started at once, not noticing his wife’s fragile mood (as was so often the case), “it’s risky, but Ibelin is right. We have nothing more to lose. The only thing I regret is, it means we’ll be separated again for God knows how long.”
“No?” Aimery looked around, baffled. He had unbuckled his sword and hung it over the bedpost, and was about to sit to remove his boots. “But, Eschiva! You heard the arguments. On Cyprus I have a chance, a real chance, of becoming a king in all but name—maybe in name, too, if we appeal to the Pope—”
“I didn’t mean you shouldn’t go, Aimery,” Eschiva declared steadily. “I only meant I wouldn’t let you go alone. I’m coming with you.”
“Eschiva! You can’t come now! Not in your condition!”
“What do you mean, ‘in my condition’? I’m carrying your child, Aimery—a child whose future is at stake. A child who might one day be the ruler of Cyprus.”
Aimery crossed the distance between them with two giant steps and put his hands on her shoulders. “Eschiva, Cyprus is—not safe.”
“This has nothing to do with being safe. I don’t want to be safe, if it means being separated. And, more important, if you are laying claim to a kingdom, then you need to show your future barons that in choosing you they aren’t choosing a single man, but a dynasty—a man with a wife, two sons already, and more on the way.”
Aimery registered that Eschiva was making sense—as she almost always did when she ventured to voice an opinion. Before he had decided what to answer, Eschiva continued, “Nor does it hurt that I’m an Ibelin.”
Aimery had thought of that already. Eschiva’s father had been a respected nobleman; her uncle was nothing short of legendary. “I know,” he admitted, “but you’re in the seventh month. Do you think I’ve forgotten how frightened you are of childbirth? Do you think I don’t understand what a chance you are taking already? I want you safe, and I want you to be among people you trust when the time comes.”
Eschiva thought briefly of how earlier today she had made Isabella promise to be with her when the time came, and instantly recognized how unimportant that was compared to being with Aimery. She lifted her chin, looked Aimery straight in the eye, and declared: “And I’m telling you, Aimery, you are the only one I need to have near me. Any midwife can deliver the child, but I want you beside me when I hold our child in my arms for the first time. I want you beside me when we christen him in Nicosia, your future capital. I would rather give birth in a manager like the Virgin Mary than in a palace, if the former means you are with me.”
Aimery pulled her into his arms and held her closely but gently, conscious of her big belly between them. “Eschiva, you are more precious to me than anything else on earth. How can I put you at risk?”
Eschiva rested her head on his chest with a sense of deep gratitude for his words, his presence, and his warmth, but she spoke firmly. “I’m at risk in childbed—no matter where I am. I could die just as easily at Caymont or in the royal palace at Acre. It’s not as if you’re going to the wilderness where there are no midwives, no physicians, no houses, baths, or churches.” Eschiva had listened very well to his enthusiastic descriptions of Cyprus over Christmas. “Indeed, the way you described the royal palace in Nicosia, it was hardly less splendid than the Imperial palace in Constantinople where Maria Zoë grew up.”
Aimery winced inwardly as he realized he was now trapped in a web of his own making. He was being repaid for his earlier eagerness to make her want to come, anticipating reluctance rather than this untimely zeal.
“And you said the physicians were highly trained, the sewage systems very modern, and the wine excellent,” she recited further.
“God help me, Eschiva.” Aimery bent to seal her lips with a kiss to stop her saying any more. Then, pulling away, he admitted, “It is all true, but . . . ” He searched for an argument that would hold water. “I would feel happier knowing you are with Maria Zoë or Isabella. I’m going to have my hands full. I’m not going to be able to devote the time and attention to you I did at Christmas.”
“I understand that,” Eschiva told him bluntly. “I don’t expect you pay me attention. I’m coming to support you, not the other way around.” Taking a deep breath, Eschiva drew away from Aimery’s embrace and faced him. “Aimery, it doesn’t matter what you say. I’m going with you to Cyprus.”
For a moment more, Aimery tried to resist. He wanted to do what was right for her and their unborn child, but deep down inside, selfishly, he wanted her with him. He knew she would be a comfort to him, and a source of strength. Aimery pulled her back into his arms and laid his head on hers. “So be it then, sweetheart.”
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