Balian, numbed by the magnitude of the disaster, was trying to draw up a procurement list when an intangible wave of agitation swept over the camp. It was late afternoon and the sun hung very low in the western sky. He looked up alarmed and squinted toward the barbican, but nothing seemed to be moving there beyond the listlessly flapping banners of Barlais, Bethsan, and Gibelet.
Then with a sense of impending doom, Balian realized the commotion was coming from the opposite direction: the trail back to the Nicosia-Kyrenia road. Balian put down the quill he was using to scratch his list on a re-used parchment and stood to watch his father ride through the devastated camp.
The Lord of Beirut sat straight in his saddle, the arms of Ibelin on his surcoat and trapper. His face was impassive as he looked from side to side assessing the damage. He was accompanied by a dozen men, and all the horses were dusty, tired and sweated despite the chilly temperatures. They had ridden hard to get here before dark.
Beirut caught sight of his eldest son and directed his horse toward him. Balian just waited. Novare and Sir Robert, who had been working with him on drawing up the list of goods needed, likewise got to their feet.
Beirut drew up in front of his son. “I’m told,” he opened without prelude, “that not one of my sons was in this camp when it was attacked. Is that true?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Hugh had a lung infection so I sent him to Nicosia to recover.”
Beirut nodded and waited for more.
“Baldwin went with him. I don’t know why, but he hasn’t been back since. That was fourteen days ago.”
“I was trying to secure livestock so we could have fresh meat. It will be arriving in the next day or two.” At least that was true, Balian reflected, but he swallowed hard nevertheless. If his father found out about Eschiva…
“And who was in command?”
“Novare, my lord.”
Beirut’s gaze shifted immediately to Novare, but beyond a twitch of his eyebrows, he made no comment. Instead, Beirut wearily dismounted from his horse and said, “I wish to speak with you alone, Balian.” He handed off his reins to Sir Robert, took Balian by the upper arm, and moved with him to a copse of pine trees.
Balian could hear his heart beating and wondered if his father could hear it too. Beirut, at last, came to a halt and turned to face his son. “I don’t know what to say. I have seen your courage with my own eyes. When you went down on the quay at Gastria, I felt as if a horse was trampling in my own chest. You, more than anyone, won the Battle at Nicosia. Your uncle was killed, I was trapped, the men of Ibelin scattered, but you rallied them and delivered the decisive blow. Now, men tell me your lance is still embedded in the gate up there!” He pointed in the direction of the barbican.
Balian said nothing. The ax hadn’t fallen yet.
“You have the courage of a lion, Balian, but where is your common sense? Where is your judgment? Where is your sense of responsibility? I thought you had matured in the last year, but when I see this,” his father gestured toward the disarray around them, “I see a young man still guided more by his passion and his whims than his reason.”
What could Balian say to that? Guilty as charged.
Yet Balian felt a surge of rebelliousness too. “Are you so sure battles,” and hearts he added mentally, “can be won by reason, my lord?”
“Sieges can, yes.”
Balian nodded and swallowed down the rebuke. “It won’t happen again, my lord. I will stay here until either Barlais or I are dead.”
“No, you won’t. We will establish a roster of knights and sergeants, and you and your brothers will rotate the command. One of you will always be here in future, but the other two will have time to recuperate and attend to other business, just as the knights and archers will. I should have thought of it sooner. I take full responsibility for what happened here—but I hope you learned a valuable lesson.” The look his father gave him was conciliatory. The lecture was over, and he was on the brink of a smile.
Balian hesitated, but then he accepted the olive branch and cracked a smile. “Yes, my lord.”
Beirut flung his arm over Balian’s shoulders and hugged him briefly. “It was my fault, Balian. Really it was. This is a miserable place to spend your time—especially when you’re only 22.”
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