Beth had been raised in a harem, and she had an instinct for female intrigue. She had only to cast one look at the women gathered in the garden to know that Eschiva was a lamb come to the slaughter. Sibylla had been married to Guy de Lusignan for two and a half years already, but her womb had yet to quicken. People were starting to snigger that Guy was not virile enough or speculate that God opposed the marriage. Both interpretations infuriated Sibylla, and she hated seeing Eschiva’s full belly. Beth saw the looks she flung at Eschiva whenever the latter’s head was turned, and knew her sugary smiles and the kisses on both cheeks she would soon deliver were a tawdry façade. Beth was certain that if Sibylla had the chance, she would actively induce another miscarriage.
The Queen Mother was less hostile, Beth sensed. She was indifferent to Eschiva as a person, but she resented the fact that her former lover had settled down with his child wife. By the time Aimery consummated his marriage, Agnes had again been sharing her bed with Heraclius, and Beth had heard her waiting women whispering excitedly that the latter had learned some truly exotic lovemaking techniques in Constantinople that made Aimery look rather tame. Still, Beth sensed that it bothered the Queen Mother that Aimery seemed so happy with his child bride.
The other women were insignificant; there was no one here who would stand up to the royal women for Eschiva’s sake. The strongwilled women like Stephanie de Milly and Maria Zoë Comnena were commanding the defense of castles and towns, while their husbands prepared the relief of Beirut.
Eschiva and Beth had reached the bottom of the steps when with an audible squeal Sibylla exclaimed, “Poor Eschiva! There you are at last. You look exhausted and red. Come have a seat beside me. Girl!” she addressed Beth, who she knew was of lowborn, native blood. “Go fetch some sherbet for your mistress.”
Beth was not sorry to leave such company, but was reluctant to leave Eschiva alone in this viper’s nest.
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