He spun about to face the exit from the stairwell just as a tall, broad-shouldered man emerged from it. The newcomer was hooded and alone, which made Ibelin uncertain at first, but when he strode over to the railing and looked out toward the enemy, just four feet from where Ibelin was standing, Balian was no longer in doubt. Even without his crown, Richard Plantagenet, sometimes called “Lionheart” by his admirers, was an imposing figure. He was as tall as Ibelin, but considerably more muscular. He wore a thick but close-cropped beard. His face was square and divided vertically by a strong, straight nose. His forehead was both broad and high, accented by his straight eyebrows. His mouth was a firm, straight line over his solid but not projecting chin. Altogether it was a harmonious face, and far more than handsome. The Lusignans were blessed with fine good looks, but unlike them, this face was strong. At the moment it was dominated by eyes that drew together as they searched the distance. Ibelin noted with approval that the English King was obviously still sober and still alert at this hour of the night—and that he was here alone to assess the enemy. Those facts spoke well for him.
“Welcome to the Holy Land, my lord King,” Ibelin drew attention to himself.
Richard turned sharply to look at the man who had spoken, apparently surprised to be addressed so directly and familiarly by a man he had taken for a mere sentry. “Have we met?” he asked pointedly.
“No, I’ve been keeping watch all night.”
“Who are you?”
The English King started in recognition and burst out indignantly, “The man who contrived the scandalous sham separation of my cousin Isabella of Jerusalem from her lawfully wedded husband!”
Ibelin frowned. He did not like—or think he deserved—to be reduced to an intriguer. Furthermore, he did not view Isabella’s separation from Toron as a “sham.” In dismay he asked back pointedly, “Who have you been talking to, my lord? Humphrey de Toron?”
“Among others, yes. Do you mean to deny it, my lord?” the King retorted, thrusting out his chin belligerently.
“Deny that I helped end Isabella’s shameful relationship with Toron? Why should I? Isabella was eleven years old when she wed Humphrey, and he knows it as well as I do. Did you ask him whether he was willing to fight for his bride?” Ibelin paused only barely long enough to give the English King a chance to answer before continuing. “He was given the chance to prove she was his wife in judicial combat, but he quailed before such a prospect. He did not even take up the gage. That should tell you something about both the justice of his cause and the man himself.”
The English King was quick to abandon a lost argument and declared instead, “Montferrat is a bigamist! He has a wife living in Constantinople!”
“Who has renounced him.” Ibelin countered, sticking to this story even if there was justifiable cause to doubt it, but he added, “Had we known the King of France was widowed—or that your betrothal to Alys of France was not set in stone—we might have waited for either of you,” Ibelin suggested provocatively. “We did the best with what we had. Whomever Isabella wed was to be our king, and we need a king capable of fighting for her kingdom. Montferrat can; Toron cannot.”
“You already have a crowned and anointed king!” Richard countered, starting to get genuinely annoyed with this impudent upstart.
“If you’re referring to Guy de Lusignan, who lost the Kingdom at Hattin, his claim to the throne was extinguished with his wife’s death.” It angered Ibelin that the English King was being so partisan and pigheaded. So much depended upon him, and yet here he was rejecting everything the High Court had done to eliminate the rot that had led to the fall of Jerusalem four years ago. If the English King insisted on supporting Lusignan, whether out of bigoted support for a vassal or merely to spite Philip of France, it would divide them when they needed unity. Everything depended on this crusade being a success. They had at last pulled together a force large enough to challenge Salah ad-Din’s dominance, but that force had to be used effectively in support of the common cause if it was to have chance of defeating him. That meant they could no longer tolerate Lusignan’s stubborn refusal to accept his fate. Ibelin tried to underline how untenable Lusignan’s position was by noting, “You’ll find not one single baron of Jerusalem—except poor Toron—who supports Lusignan.”
“The barons of Jerusalem?” the English King scoffed in response. “The pack of you together don’t control so much as an acre of land!”
“We control no less than your once and would-be king!” Ibelin reminded him indignantly.
“In your shoes, my lord,” Richard advised ominously, narrowing his eyes as the muscles around his jaw tensed, “I would be more respectful toward those who have come to recover the lands you lost through your sins!”
Now Ibelin was truly angry. He’d had enough of this logic, and he was not afraid to say so to the King of England. Looking the Lionheart straight in the eye as he spoke, he asked: “Why, my lord King, do you truly think our Lord is so petty or so cruel as to punish all of Christendom for the sins of so few?”
Richard avoided the question and dismissed Ibelin with an imperious, “You’ve been warned once, Ibelin. Don’t make me warn you again.”
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