“What do you mean?” Baldwin asked irritably. Ever since his sister had broached the subject of marrying Guy de Lusignan just over a week ago, he had slept poorly, had had little appetite (particularly for Lenten fare), and was becoming increasingly short-tempered. His thoughts seemed trapped in circles. Guy de Lusignan was not suited to become King of Jerusalem. He was not of high enough birth, let alone character, and he had no qualities whatever to recommend him. Of that, Baldwin was certain. But he was no longer certain that Ramla was the ideal candidate, either. There had to be other eligible barons in the Kingdom, but noblemen married early and often died young. There were always more widows than widowers.
Besides, he had given his word to Sibylla that he would not force her into a marriage she did not want—and she wanted no one but Guy. So it didn’t matter who he selected, she would be miserable. But if he let her marry Guy and renounce the throne in favor of her son by Montferrat or Isabella, he would be forced to remain king for many more years, regardless of how helpless and weak he was or became in the future.
Would Guy de Lusignan really make a worse king than a youth whose limbs were rotting away?
If he could abdicate even some of his royal duties, he could rest more. He craved rest. The only time he ever got enough rest was when he was so ill that they closed the doors to the antechamber and let in only the doctors and the priests—and his mother. Sometimes he thought God was telling him he needed rest when he sent the fevers.
Dear God! he cried out in his heart. What do You want of me?
“You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said,” his mother concluded irritably.
Baldwin turned bloodshot eyes to her and admitted, “No. I was not listening. Tell me again.”
“I’m telling you that Ramla thinks he is riding to his wedding with Sibylla, and the moment she is his wife he will turn around and depose you.”
“Because he’s greedy and not content to be heir,” Agnes insisted. “Have you forgotten I raised him as a child? I know his character very well indeed. He always hated and snubbed me!”
There was some truth in that, Baldwin conceded with a sigh. Even Balian admitted that his older brother had detested their sister-in-law and shown her little respect when they were children.
“Furthermore,” Agnes pressed her case, “the Lusignan brothers heard him say you were no longer fit to rule and needed to be deposed in favor of someone healthy.”
“Where did Ramla allegedly say that—within hearing of both Lusignans?” Baldwin asked wearily. The claim was too ridiculous to take seriously.
“In his own home and in the presence of not just the Lusignans but his brother, his wife, and your stepmother.”
Baldwin stiffened. He might long for rest and dream about retiring to a monastery where he could focus on preparing his soul for God, but he did not like other men presuming he was not fit to rule. He looked his mother in the eye and declared firmly, “I don’t believe you. Balian would never speak against me.”
Agnes knew better than to criticize Balian. She might not particularly like him herself, but she could not deny that he had been a friend to her son when he had had no others. Nor had he been rude to her, as Barry had been when she married their older brother Hugh and tried to assert her authority a lady of the house. She hastened to assure her son, “No one is suggesting he did! Quite the contrary. According to Aimery, Balian sharply rebuked his brother, and so the conversation turned to other things. But you must see the danger. Ramla is coming here with the backing of the Greek Emperor, Antioch—who is brother-in-law to the Greek Emperor—and Tripoli, who from the start wanted to see Isabella crowned Queen. It’s a conspiracy.”
If he could have controlled his hands, Baldwin would have dropped his head in them. He was so tired. So utterly exhausted. He felt as if he didn’t have the strength to think, reason, or resist anymore.
“Ramla will send you to the Brothers of St. Lazarus and steal your kingdom from you the moment he has secured Sibylla.”
And what would be so wrong with that? Baldwin asked himself. Wasn’t it really what he wanted? To just retire from the world and live among people who weren’t repulsed by the sight of him? People for whom he did not need to dress in bandages and fine robes? Why didn’t he rejoice at the thought? But he didn’t. So he answered wearily, “We don’t know that he would do that, Mother. Only God knows.”
“And only God knows if Guy de Lusignan would make such a bad king. He’s still very young. He needs time to learn about the Holy Land, I admit that, but while he’s learning you would still be King.”
Baldwin looked warily at his mother. He could not entirely dismiss the thought that her opposition to Ramla was based on nothing more than her fear that she would lose power and influence the moment Baldwin stepped down. On the other hand, could he blame her for fearing that? It had happened to her once before when his father set her aside, and he had heard that Tripoli had argued that both he and Sibylla be passed over in favor of Isabella. His mother had every reason to feel insecure—and reason to think it ominous that Ramla was traveling in the company of Tripoli and Antioch and some five hundred knights, if reports could be believed.
Baldwin closed his eyes and tried to think. It rankled that Ramla had called him unfit to rule, after all the effort he made to be a good King. He’d been prepared to give him the keys to the Kingdom by allowing him the privilege of marrying Sibylla. Shouldn’t Ramla be grateful for that, rather than turning around and biting the hand that fed him? Maybe his mother was right. It was true she had known him all his life.
Agnes de Courtenay spoke right into his thoughts. “Don’t confuse Barry with Balian—they are very different men. Even as boys they were different. Barry was impudent and mean to me; Balian was reserved, but never cruel or rebellious. Balian would never betray you. He’s proved that over and over again. I’m sure he hasn’t a clue about his brother’s plans. Ramla would not dare tell him, because he too knows that Balian would never support him. There’s a conspiracy against you, my dearest son, but Balian d’Ibelin is not part of it.”
“What are you asking me to do, Mother? Order the arrest of the Prince of Antioch, the Count of Tripoli, and the Baron of Ramla on suspicion of treason?” Baldwin’s tone emphasized how absurd the notion was. Antioch and Tripoli ruled the other two remaining states founded by the first crusaders. They were independent rulers in their own right, not vassals of the Crown of Jerusalem. No one would follow such orders—certainly not from a feeble nineteen-year-old youth rotting away from leprosy.
“No, Baldwin,” Agnes said in a gentle voice, resting her hand on his arm as she rarely did. “No, all I’m suggesting is that you let your sister marry the man she loves.”
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