His mother, a daughter of the Greek imperial family, had been raised in the palaces of Constantinople. As a child she had never walked on floors of anything but marble or mosaic, but here there were nothing but rough flagstones and packed mud on the lower levels. It was more like a barn than a palace, John thought resentfully, glancing at the naked walls and the unglazed windows. How could his mother stand it here?
“Zoë!” Ibelin called, using his wife’s middle name, which only he used with her. “John’s here!”
A moment later Maria Zoë Comnena emerged in the doorway from the solar. She was dressed simply in accordance with her surroundings, in a rust-colored linen gown and a white surcoat of Gaza cotton. She had wrapped her head in saffron silk veils, however, and the dazzling smile she cast John reminded him that she had been a celebrated beauty in her youth. She advanced toward him with outstretched hands, but—still every inch a queen—she did not rush or shriek with delight. John hastened to meet her, bowing over her hand as he had been taught to do from earliest childhood.
“What brings you here? Are you alone?” she asked, delighted, but already looking beyond John, expecting Aimery and/or Eschiva.
“He’s got bad news,” his father answered for him. “It seems Champagne ordered Aimery’s arrest for high treason.”
“Ah, the Pisans,” the Dowager Queen replied, nodding knowingly, while John gaped and his father nodded agreement.
“What do you mean?” John asked, looking back and forth between his parents.
“You tell him,” Ibelin suggested to his wife, “while I go clean up and change.”
Maria Zoë nodded, and slipped her arm through her son’s elbow to lead him back into the solar as she explained. “The Pisans have been attacking ships bound to and from Acre. Acting little better than pirates, actually. Champagne is understandably furious, but he doesn’t have sufficient naval forces to engage the Pisan corsairs, so he threatened to take action against the Pisan commune in Acre. The problem with that is that there’s no evidence—and indeed, no reason why—the Pisans of Acre should be allied with those preying on shipping bound for Acre. Your sister Isabella wrote me that Aimery tried to stand up for the Pisan commune, which infuriated Champagne. I’m sure that’s what’s behind this arrest. Your father will soon get things cleared up.” She paused to look at her son, smiling unconsciously to see him looking so mature and masculine. He might be only thirteen but, like his father, he was tall, and already handsome—at least in his mother’s eyes. “Did you ride all through the night to bring the news?”
“Yes, I left immediately after Lord Aimery’s arrest. I didn’t even think to take food or money with me!”
His mother laughed. “Am I being too maternal if I suggest you’re famished and need some breakfast?”
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