A crowd gathered in the street, too, for the news had spread like wildfire that the Sultan had sent fifty Mamlukes to escort the Dowager Queen to Christian territory. Curiously, as far as Ibelin could detect, there was not a trace of jealousy among the people. Rather, the news of the Sultan’s generosity seemed to fill them with increased awe and respect for their new commander. He’d broken his word to the Sultan, and still the Sultan sent an escort for his wife and children! The Sultan must value him highly.
On the other hand, the news that Queen Sibylla was to go with the Dowager Queen so she could join her husband in captivity triggered a small riot of outrage. Ibelin had been forced to go and speak with the angry crowd. They had sullenly dispersed, but Sibylla’s departure from the royal palace to join the Ibelin convoy this morning had been punctuated with catcalls, insults, and rude suggestions of what she should tell (or do to) her husband when she met him again.
At last Maria Zoë and Balian emerged from the upper gallery and started down the broad steps into the courtyard. Maria Zoë was dressed in voluminous layers of white cotton, from her shift to the veils that completely covered her head and face and fell all the way to her hips. They were held in place by a simple golden band around her forehead that suggested a crown. Gold threads were woven into the cotton, a couple inchs apart, and the edges of the full, flowing sleeves of her gown were trimmed in purple embroidery, while her doeskin gloves had the crosses of Jerusalem stitched in gold on the back—just like the gloves she had once given King Baldwin. No Muslim could accuse her of immodesty, but her claim to royalty and royal privilege was just as patent.
Balian was dressed in one of his best tunics, and he had changed his own tattered and poorly repaired armor for his late brother Hugh’s coat of mail. It was still a little too big for him, but nevertheless in better condition than his own. The oldest palfrey in their stable, Treasure, nearing twenty and graying at the muzzle, had been selected to remain behind, and he was brought forward so Balian could mount and lead the little convoy to the rendezvous just beyond St. Stephen’s Gate.
He swung himself up and signaled for the doors out of the courtyard to be opened. Balian and Maria Zoë rode side by side out into the street with Eschiva and Isabella directly behind them, followed by the two horse litters, four packhorses, and finally Father Angelus and Eskindar making up the rear. Queen Sibylla’s party fell in behind them.
Balian and Maria Zoë rode in silence in the brittle morning sunshine. They had said their farewells the night before, and now there was nothing more to say. Except that Maria Zoë was finding it harder and harder to go. She had been amazed and relieved when the Sultan’s messenger first arrived. It was the gift of certain life and freedom for her children, for Eschiva, and for Eloise as well. But Isabella, Eschiva, and Eloise had husbands safe outside of Jerusalem. Only Maria Zoë was being torn apart from hers.
Once during the night she had broached the topic. The children would be safe with Eschiva. Maybe she—Balian had cut her off sharply. He would not hear of it or discuss it.
Now he reached out and took her gloved hand in his naked one and raised it to his lips. “I could have died at Hattin, Zoë, ignominiously. Instead, I have the privilege of defending Jerusalem. Be sure my sons remember that: that I chose to defend Jerusalem, even though it was already lost.”
Maria Zoë nodded, afraid that if she opened her mouth only a sob would come out. That was another advantage of the gauze veils shielding her face from the sun and the eyes of others: they kept her red and puffy eyes hidden.
“Be sure that they remember one thing more,” Balian asked of his wife.
She turned to him and waited expectantly.
“Be sure they always remember that the tomb in the Holy Sepulcher is empty. It is empty because He rose from the dead. He is not here, in Jerusalem. He is wherever two or more of you are gathered in His name.”
They had reached St. Stephen’s Gate, and Balian drew up. He would not risk going outside, where—now that he was a valuable prisoner—the Sultan’s guard might be tempted (if they didn’t have orders) to seize him.
“Go with God, my love, and in the knowledge that He is with you.”
“But also with you!” Maria Zoë choked out.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish