Ibelin was not immune to flattery. Part of him felt he ought to remain in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and play his hereditary role in the High Court. Furthermore, here he was recognized as the premier baron in the realm by virtue of being stepfather to the Queen. If Champagne recognized him as an asset, it increased his value to the Kingdom. Didn’t he owe it to Jerusalem to give her everything he had? Did it matter if his greatest contribution was no longer the strength of his arms but rather the quality of his advice?
He hesitated, rethinking his decision to return to Cyprus. He had expected to feel more “at home” here, but Caymont still felt alien—while Acre and Tyre, and indeed the entire country, struck him as overpopulated and over-cultivated. The countryside seemed dry and dusty and the cities smelly and crowded, after the forested mountains and well-watered plains of Cyprus. The sun seemed hotter here, too, because Cyprus was cooled by strong winds, and the castles sat a thousand feet or more above sea level.
Shifting uncomfortably in his chair, he recognized that after nearly a year away, he’d also been discomfited by the large number of Arab caravans that used Acre and Tyre as their market for West-bound goods. They were a constant reminder of the defeat the Christians had suffered and the threat that remained. On Cyprus, on the other hand, it was so easy to forget about Hattin. . . .
And there was Paphos. Aimery had offered it to him. “Rebuild it, and it’s yours,” he’d said plainly. The offer was more than tempting: it was seductive. On the one hand, the city’s Roman/Greek heritage was so dominant that it was almost like returning to the age of Christ. On the other hand, it was in such a state of decay and disrepair that it begged for help. The vision of a new city with a modern castle and a Latin cathedral was far more compelling that Champagne’s offer of a seat on his council. Ibelin took a deep breath. “Thank you. I’m honored, but no. I promised Aimery I would return.”
“Aimery.” Champagne’s face turned sour and his voice tart.
That surprised Ibelin. Champagne had been in the wrong with his accusations of treason against Aimery, and the Lusignan’s gracious withdrawal to Cyprus had saved them all an unpleasant confrontation. Champagne, Ibelin thought, ought to be grateful to Aimery. “Surely you can have nothing against him now?” Ibelin asked with an edge of exasperation in his voice.
“Is it true he is trying to have himself made king?” Champagne returned sharply.
Ibelin registered Champagne’s resentment and tried to reply in a mollifying tone. “He needs the authority of a crown to keep the likes of my nephew, Cheneché, and Barlais in check. By offering Cyprus to the Holy Roman Emperor in exchange for a crown, he also gains an ally against the Greek Emperor, who still claims Cyprus.”
“In case you’ve forgotten, the snake calling himself Holy Roman Emperor is the man who held my uncle Richard in a dungeon!” Champagne retorted hotly. “He treated the King of England—a crusader—as if he were a criminal! The Hohenstaufen is a madman!”
“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t met him,” Ibelin demurred, “but he is a very powerful monarch. Furthermore, he’s taken the cross and is recruiting a substantial force to come to your aid. The truce with the Saracens, don’t forget, runs out in nine months.”
“No, I haven’t forgotten,” Champagne answered grimly. “It’s one of the things that keeps me awake at night—and, indeed, another reason I wanted you to stay.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish