The chamber was completely dark. Not a single candle burned here, and the only light came from a double-light window facing west, out of the city to the luminescent sky where the sun had just set. Balian stood inside the door adjusting to the dark, searching with his eyes and ears for the room’s occupant. After almost a minute he realized that there was no one in sight, but the curtains to the bed were closed. Taking a deep breath, Balian moved silently to the bed and slowly drew back the curtain.
Baldwin was lying on his side, his back to Balian. His shoulder was shaking convulsively. Balian knelt with one knee on the edge of the bed and laid his hand on Baldwin’s shoulder.
“Why?” Baldwin croaked, out of a throat cramped from suppressing his sobs. “Why does God hate me, Ibrahim?”
“He does not hate you, Baldwin.”
“Balian! Where did you come from?” Baldwin reared up and turned around in a single gesture. He stared at his friend with wide eyes and a face streaked with tears.
“We’ve been waiting in the anteroom for hours, but were told you were not ready to receive us. Ibrahim tried to stop me, so don’t blame him.”
“Of course not! If I’d known you—Oh, Balian, have you heard? The leprosy. We thought it had stopped spreading, but it’s—” Baldwin broke down again and started sobbing.
Balian sat down on the bed and pulled the teenaged boy into his arms. “Ibrahim told me.”
“Why?” Baldwin cried into his breast. “Why? Why? Why? What have I done to deserve this? Why does God want to punish me? For what?”
“It is not punishment, Baldwin. Like Christ, you are suffering for our sins—the sins of your subjects.”
“That’s not fair, Balian! Other kings don’t suffer for the sins of their subjects. Why me?”
“I don’t know, Baldwin. I can only tell you that He has chosen you. And while you may suffer in this life, He will take you into His arms like a long-lost son in the next. You will go straight to Heaven, Baldwin, while the rest of us languish in our graves, in Purgatory or in Hell. He has laid upon you the suffering He reserves only for those He loves most: His Son, His saints, and His martyrs.”
Baldwin drew back enough to look Balian in the face. At length he asked, “Do you really believe that?”
“I have to, your grace—or I would lose faith in God Himself.”
Baldwin drew a ragged breath and then slowly straightened up, pulling out of Balian’s embrace. “I don’t want you to be infected,” he whispered, the tears streaming down his face. Balian grabbed the bed sheets and found a corner with which to wipe the tears from his King’s face. Then he held him firmly by the shoulders and looked him in the eye. “It will be as God wills, Baldwin—but it seems He does not think me worthy of your suffering.”
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