“Ernoul, I need your help.”
“Yes. What?” Ernoul asked, still half asleep.
“I can’t go through with this crowning,” Humphrey said in a low voice.
Ernoul’s eyes widened. “What—”
“Sibylla’s been anointed. To oppose her is treason! Besides, how can we have two queens in one country? It will tear the Kingdom apart, and while we’re fighting each other, Salah ad-Din will overwhelm us. You must see this is madness! No matter how bad Sibylla and Guy might be, fighting among ourselves is worse.”
“But Sibylla didn’t have the consent of the High Court,” Ernoul protested.
“That doesn’t matter anymore!” Humphrey cut him off. “The only thing that matters now is that we unite and fight together.”
“What does Isabella say to this?” Ernoul wanted to know.
“She wants to be Queen, but that’s just a childish notion. She doesn’t know what it will mean. Not really. She thinks it’s about being rich and powerful and independent. She thinks it’s her ‘destiny.’” Humphrey’s voice belittled Isabella’s feelings. “But this is about our very survival!”
Ernoul was frowning. He could understand Humphrey’s logic, but the High Court had decided something else, and Balian supported Isabella. Could they all be wrong and Humphrey right? He didn’t think so. The High Court was composed of the wisest men in the realm. Men with hundreds of years of experience combined, and men who had given their whole lives to the Defense of Jerusalem. Surely they could not all be wrong and the teenage Humphrey de Toron right? Besides, they had might on their side. Oultrejourdain had only sixty knights, after all, and Edessa maybe twenty. The Templars were the problem, of course, but the Hospitallers were with the High Court, and if the Pope ordered the Templars . . . Ernoul shook his head sharply to bring himself back to reality. “What do you want me to do?” he asked Humphrey.
“I’m going to ride for Jerusalem tonight and do homage to Sibylla—”
“Humphrey! You can’t!” Ernoul protested.
“I must! I’m going to stop this civil war before it starts! But you’ve got to keep Isabella from sounding the alarm.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“When she wakes up and finds me gone, she’ll come looking for me, and even if she doesn’t know—doesn’t even dream—where I actually am, her asking about me may make others suspicious. All I want you to do is make up some story—you’re good at that. Tell her waiting woman that you’ve taken me somewhere. Tell her we won’t be back until after dinner, so she doesn’t get alarmed until then.”
“Humphrey, you’re asking me to betray my lord, the High Court, and the Regent!” He added forcefully, “Lord Balian wants to see Isabella crowned—”
“Ernoul!” Humphrey laid his hands on Ernoul’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. “You’ve been my friend all these years. My only friend. Please, as you love me, do this for me.”
Ernoul didn’t know what to say. He did love Humphrey. Who else in the world shared his love of books and poetry—of language itself, and the way it was used to tell a tale? Even if the days when the others made fun of him were gone, they still did not share his love. They were happy to hear his tales and songs once they were finished, but only Humphrey had ever helped him write them. His friendship with Humphrey was like nothing else, and Humphrey still treated him like an equal although he was a lord.
“You can’t stop me from what I intend to do,” Humphrey told Ernoul. “Not unless you are prepared to knock me down and call the watch! And even then, they will have to chain me in a dungeon to stop me. I’m going to do this for the good of Jerusalem. All I’m asking is that you make it easier on everyone. The sooner this is over with, the sooner the threat of civil war is over—because once I’ve done homage to Sibylla, they will have no alternative king anymore.”
“That is my problem, Ernoul,” Humphrey told him solemnly.
“Humphrey, please don’t do this!” Ernoul begged.
“Are you going to help me or not?” Humphrey answered, his lips pressed together, with a determination on his face that Ernoul could not remember ever seeing there before.
Ernoul took a deep breath. “I’ll tell Isabella a tall tale—but I won’t lie to Lord Balian if he asks me where you are.”
“Fair enough,” Humphrey agreed with a short nod. Then he flung his arms around Ernoul and held him close for a moment. “Thank you!” he murmured. “I will not forget this. Ever.”
He released Ernoul and turned to stride toward the stables where his squire slept with the other visiting squires. Ernoul stood in the ward, stunned, half inclined to call the watch after all—or at least wake Lord Balian. Should he really let Humphrey go and ruin everything the High Court had decided? Should he allow Humphrey to make Guy de Lusignan king? Was civil war really worse than a bad king? A stupid, arrogant king? Ernoul wasn’t sure.
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