He had not ridden very far when, coming around a curve in the road, he abruptly came upon a large party of men and an oxcart that completely blocked the road. John drew up, annoyed, as he tried to figure out who they were and what they were doing. They were a mixture of Franks and Syrians, judging from their different head coverings: Syrians in turbans and Franks in fitted linen caps or bareheaded. The Syrians had hitched their kaftans up, while the Franks were wearing nothing but shirts and braies, with the sleeves rolled up over their elbows. They were all barefoot with their feet covered in mud, and they were armed with picks and shovels.
As John took in the little scene, he realized they were trying to clear the debris of a small landslide out of a relatively wide stone-lined irrigation ditch that ran beside the road. The ditch led from a spring farther up the hill to the fields on the upper slope to the right of the road. As they cleared the stones out of the ditch, they lugged them over to the ox-cart to dump them in the back, apparently for use in building or repairing walls elsewhere.
John was about to ride around the party when one of the men who had been wielding a pick to loosen a stone stood to wipe the sweat from his brow, and John recognized his father. “Papa!” John called out in shock and astonishment, before correcting himself to say, “My lord!” It was not at all right for a Baron of Jerusalem to be working with a pick in the mud, John thought.
Just last fall John had personally seen his father treated almost like an equal by King Richard of England. Only a month later al-Adil, the brother of Saladin, had visited the Ibelin stud at Tyre, and again John had seen the elaborate courtesies the Sultan’s brother had shown his father. And now his father was clearing irrigation ditches with his tenant farmers?
Ibelin handed the pick to one of his companions and stepped across the ditch to approach his son, grinning. “John! What an unexpected surprise! What are you doing here?”
“I rode all night to bring you the news! They arrested Uncle Aimery for high treason—in the middle of the night—and the last thing he said to me was to get word to you straightway. But it can’t be true. I’m sure of it. After all, I’ve been with him every minute for the last three months, and he’s done nothing but his duties! He’s completely innocent! You’ve got to do something! You’ve got to—”
“Calm down,” Ibelin interrupted his excited son. “Give me a lift back to the manor, and we’ll talk to your mother.” As he spoke, he went around to Centurion’s left side, put his foot on John’s, and swung himself up into the saddle behind his son. Then he clicked to the faithful warhorse.
John didn’t mind his father riding pillion with him; his best memories of early childhood were riding like this at the front of his father’s saddle. He was distressed, however, by his father’s calm. “You don’t understand! They hauled Lord Aimery out of bed in the middle of the night and have taken him to the royal dungeon! He’s probably chained up, and—”
“John, Aimery is Constable of Jerusalem, and he can only be tried for treason—or any other crime, for that matter—before the High Court of Jerusalem. I’m not the least bit worried that he will be able to defend himself there to the satisfaction of the majority. So don’t worry. For the moment, you need some breakfast, and I certainly need a bath and a change of clothes.”
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