“What are you thinking, Uncle Balian?” Eschiva’s voice startled him from his thoughts, and he turned to smile guiltily at his niece.
Eschiva was wrapped in a leather cloak lined with otter fur that fastened at her neck with a heavy silver brooch. She wore a wool scarf wrapped around her head to keep her ears warm, and wool mittens on her hands. She slipped one of her hands through his elbow and asked earnestly, “Do you think the Count of Tripoli will send a second relief effort?”
Four days ago, the lookouts on the northern watchtowers of Tyre had watched in frustration as ten galleys sent from Tripoli to break the blockade had encountered such ferocious headwinds that after fighting wind and waves for almost a day, they had given up and turned back.
“Hard to say,” Balian answered honestly; “it will depend on how much damage the ships sustained. I’d say the chances are high that they will need substantial repairs and a refit before they can put to sea again.”
“And Antioch?” Eschiva asked in an almost inaudible voice.
Balian looked down at her sharply. Eschiva’s face was very strained, and it struck him that it wasn’t just enduring Sibylla’s whining and complaining or concerns for her captive husband that was eating away at her youth and substance. “Wouldn’t you have thought my father would have made some effort to come to our rescue?” As she put the thought into words, the tears were in her voice, though not on her face.
Balian’s brother, Eschiva’s father, had preferred to abdicate his baronies rather than pay homage to Guy de Lusignan. As a highly respected nobleman, however, he had been welcomed at the court of Prince Bohemond of Antioch. He no doubt felt Hattin vindicated his judgment of King Guy, but it was hard to understand how he could also turn his back on his daughter and grandchildren. “It is odd,” Balian admitted cautiously, “that we have heard nothing from him, but I would not assume he has forgotten us.” He knew this was Eschiva’s fear.
“No?” Eschiva asked, with an expression that suggested she thought he was trying to coddle her.
“I fear Barry may be seriously ill or already dead.”
“Or maybe he’s just married again and doesn’t care about us anymore,” she put her suspicions into words.
“You are being unfair, Eschiva,” Balian told her sternly. “Barry desperately wanted a son and because of that he slighted you—I don’t deny that—but he loved you, too.”
“Maybe. And Aimery, do you think he loves me?”
This conversation was taking unpleasant turns and becoming increasingly uncomfortable for Balian. He was prepared to speculate about and defend his brother’s feelings, but felt considerably less qualified to talk about the Constable’s. He avoided a direct answer by asking instead, “Why do you doubt it?”
Eschiva shrugged, not meeting his eyes. “He had affairs, you know.”
“He’s certainly not having affairs now,” Balian shot back, adding, “If there is one thing a man needs when in captivity, it is the assurance of his wife’s fidelity. I’m sure Aimery is clinging to the thought of you and yearning for a reunion. His current situation will make him regret every dalliance all the more intensely, because he knows you alone can bring him home.”
“Can I, Uncle Balian? Can I bring him home? How? I’m utterly dependent on your charity.” Eschiva was close to tears again, and Balian recognized that she was close to breaking down. She was usually so self-effacing, dutiful, and calm that one tended to forget she also had a fragile heart and overly strained nerves. In response, he put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “Eschiva, you aren’t charity! You are as much a part of my family as Isabella or my own children. Together we will find a way to obtain Aimery’s freedom.”
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