Ibelin led his wife to a large carved chest, where she could sit down and unwrap the veils that had protected her face from the burning sun. Automatically the men in the room turned to watch her, enjoying absently the beauty of her well-proportioned face. From the day she had arrived at the court of Jerusalem as the bride of the then King, Amalric I, her classical Greek beauty had aroused admiration. She was a princess of the Imperial Greek family, Maria Zoë Comnena.
Her expression now was worried. “Who has given the orders to isolate the King from his most important counselors?” she asked. “His doctors?”
“Ah,” Tripoli opened with a cynical smile, his eyes reflecting admiration for the Dowager Queen’s ability to slice to the heart of the matter. “No, not his doctors.” He paused before adding in a sour tone: “His mother.”
Queen Maria Zoë drew in her breath and held it, but her eyes glinted with indignation. There was arguably no one in the world she hated more than her first husband’s first wife, the mother of the now dying King, Agnes de Courtenay.
“My sister has only the best interests of my beloved nephew at heart,” the Count of Edessa hastened to rebuff the unspoken accusation that hung in the room. Edessa was an empty title. The county had been lost to the Saracens almost half a century earlier, and Joscelin had distinguished himself only by gorging himself both literally (on sweets) and figuratively (on the royal treasury) ever since his nephew had appointed him Seneschal of Jerusalem. He was only in his early forties, but he was both balding and flabby.
Queen Maria Zoë looked down to mask her smile, but Ibelin frowned slightly, while Edessa spluttered in indignation and the aging Constable Humphrey de Toron made reproving noises in his throat.
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