Beauvais was pacing the dais when the Queen of Jerusalem and her mother emerged from the stairwell. He stopped and started slightly, snorting a little to himself at the effectiveness of feminine wiles. The frightened and exhausted girl he had glimpsed upstairs was now a stately young woman encased in dignity and crowned with gold. He had little choice but to bow deeply over her hand. “Madame,” he intoned.
Isabella sank into the central chair on the dais, Conrad’s chair, and indicated that her mother should sit at her left. The Bishop was not offered a seat. Instead, Isabella opened, “You wished to speak to me, my lord Bishop.”
“Indeed. The news of your lord husband’s dastardly murder has shocked us all—none less than the noble Duke of Burgundy. As this is obviously the work of that scoundrel King Richard of England, I have been sent to offer French protection. Even now the French crusaders are on their way to Tyre, so we can take control of its defenses and ensure you are safe from enemies of any sort.”
Beauvais was not a man to pitch his voice low unless he was conspiring or seducing, and he had not bothered to lower his voice to deliver this message. His words, therefore, were heard by more than his intended audience, and behind him in the hall they unleashed a flurry of protest.
“We can defend Tyre without any Frenchmen!” someone shouted. “We’ve defended Tyre longer than you’ve been here!” someone else noted. “We don’t need your damned help!” a third added, while the whole room grew loud with people repeating and commenting on the Bishop’s words.
Isabella was relieved by that reaction. It strengthened her own resolve to resist this offer. “As you can hear, my lord Bishop, we have no need of your aid. Thank the Duke of Burgundy, but tell him to spare the exertion of coming here. We are quite capable of defending ourselves.”
“My lady, with all due respect, you do not understand the military situation—”
Isabella cut him off furiously. “With all due respect, my lord Bishop, I understand the military situation far better than you ever could!” It was bad enough that Conrad had disparaged her opinions when they were in private. She would not tolerate a stranger, a man from France, a bishop, belittling her judgment in front of her subjects. “I was raised here, Monsieur. I lived in the border fortress of Kerak. I was there when it was besieged by Salah ad-Din. I was in Jerusalem when the news of Hattin came; I was here in Tyre during the siege of December 1187. I was with my husband at the siege of Acre! Do not presume to lecture to me just because I am a woman!”
A cheer went up from the men in the hall, loud enough to almost drown out Maria Zoë’s soft, “Well said.” Both gave Isabella courage and she sat straighter than ever, her eyes flashing with righteous indignation.
The Bishop bowed to her in a gesture of mock respect, and then, taking a step closer and looking at her with eyes that were no longer bemused, announced, “Your lord husband held the city of Tyre because my liege King Philip of France granted—”
Isabella didn’t have to answer; the uproar from Conrad’s retainers and admirers was overwhelming. They shouted the Bishop down, reminding him that Montferrat had saved Tyre before the King of France even knew it was threatened. “We saved Tyre!” they told him. “Tyre is ours!”
Isabella waited until the uproar had died down and then told Beauvais, calmly but very firmly, “Tyre is part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, my lord. My kingdom.”
“You don’t seem to understand the danger you are in, my lady. Richard Plantagenet—”
“Has been fighting for and regaining my kingdom, while you and your knights drink and gamble and whore in Acre!” Isabella flung at the Bishop of Beauvais as she got to her feet. She was exhausted and emotionally drained, and she could feel that she was on the brink of losing her self-control completely. Isabella knew herself well enough to know that if she didn’t break off this conversation now, she was likely to start screaming hysterically. She did not want to do that in front of her subjects and Montferrat’s men, so her only option was to depart now—before it happened.
The Bishop sputtered protests and bristled with indignation. “How dare you impute such base—”
“I’ve heard enough!” Isabella cut him off. “I will not surrender Tyre to anyone but the man the High Court chooses as my consort! That was my husband’s dying wish, and nothing will convince me to change my mind or do otherwise!” Then she spun about and strode as fast as she could—without running—to the stairwell. As she disappeared inside, a cheer went up from the men in the hall.
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