Balian came to a stop in front of Aimery and Eschiva, and the older man looked up at him grimly, unsure what he should say. Part of him wanted to blame Ibelin for sending him to Cyprus in the first place. He should have stayed and defended his innocence before the High Court. He should never have resigned as Constable. He should—
“Look, Aimery, your idiot brother may have named Geoffrey his heir, but I wouldn’t bet on his chances of ever claiming that inheritance.”
“Why not?” Aimery snapped back, frowning. “What do you mean?”
“Do you honestly think that the men who have spent the better part of two years fighting to gain control of Cyprus are about to relinquish their gains—or claims—to someone who hasn’t been risking his hide with them? My nephew Henri, you can be damned sure, wouldn’t dream of such a thing, not even in a nightmare.”
Aimery’s eyes narrowed, and he slowly withdrew his arm from Eschiva to sit tensely focused on Ibelin. “What are you saying?”
“How many times in the history of this Kingdom have men from the West been the ‘rightful’ heir, only to lose out to men already here? The precedent was set from the very start with the election of Baldwin I. Now is no different. My nephew, Toron, Cheneché, Bethsan, even Barlais—they know you, they trust you, and they respect you. If you want them to recognize you as Guy’s heir, do what Guy, in his stubborn idiocy, wouldn’t do: give them each enough land so they can feel richly rewarded, and keep enough for yourself to win new vassals. This city and Tyre are flooded with men who have lost everything. If you promise them something, anything, just a foothold, they will flood to your banner. They will practically swim across to Cyprus for the chance of a new beginning.” Maria Zoë found herself wondering if her husband was speaking of himself.
Balian continued, “You’ve been a loyal brother, Aimery. Again and again. You backed Guy against your better judgment. You stayed by him on the Horns of Hattin, when you could have broken out with Tripoli or me. You went into captivity with him. You joined him at the siege of Acre. You supported him against Montferrat. And what did he ever give you in return? Nothing. Not one miserable thing. Why, in the name of our ever-loving Christ, should you respect his last wishes?”
“You sincerely think your nephew would back me?”
“For a barony? Henri would back John’s dog!”
Suddenly they were all laughing, and although Aimery growled, “I’m not sure that’s much of a compliment,” his shoulders had squared, and Eschiva could feel the energy surging through his muscles again.
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