Baldwin was radiant. He sat in the central chair, his gloved hands resting on the arms, and he could not wipe the smile off his face. “We made it, Balian,” he insisted triumphantly. “Nobody thought we would. Aimery tried to talk me out of it.”
“And well he should have, your grace.”
“We cannot afford to lose Ascalon,” Baldwin countered. “You did not really think I would leave you in the lurch, did you?”
“Your grace, I did not doubt you would send me aid,” Balian reasoned, “and I’m grateful for every man in the room—save you.”
“Ha! You mean I should have sent Lusignan at the head of my relief force—or sent my uncle of Edessa and Reginald de Sidon without me?”
“I do, your grace.” It wasn’t just that Baldwin’s illness rendered him incapable of fighting; it was the fact that the succession was again endangered. The Marquis of Montferrat, who had married Princess Sibylla a year ago, had died of a sudden fever in June. While he lived, Montferrat had ensured that at Baldwin’s death the Kingdom would be left in the hands of a man both battle-hardened and well-connected, but Montferrat’s death meant that—until they found a new husband for Sibylla—the Kingdom would be without a king should Baldwin be killed. It did not help that Sibylla was pregnant, and any new husband would have to recognize another man’s son as his heir.
“Well, my lord,” the King told Balian pointedly, “you share that opinion with practically everyone else in Jerusalem, including my mother—but I am no longer a child who can be told, ‘No, you cannot do that’ or ‘Don’t touch, that is for adults only.’” Ice had crept into Baldwin’s voice, and although he was smiling, he was no longer jubilant. “I have been told far too long what I cannot do. Now take note of what I can do!”
Balian bowed his head to his young King in submission, and then poured for him and held the silver goblet to his lips so he could drink, tipping the cup very carefully as his King sipped. When the King pulled back his head, shaking his head to signal he had had enough, their eyes met. “How many knights did you bring, your grace?” Balian asked him in a low voice.
Baldwin answered proudly: “Three hundred and sixty-seven!”
Balian’s estimate had not been far off this, but it still amazed him to hear the number confirmed. With Tripoli and Antioch engaged in their own campaign against Hama, Jerusalem could call on no troops from those states and was dependent on its own resources. “What did you do? Call on every knight physically present in the city?”
“Exactly,” Baldwin agreed. “Sir Walter made it clear that we didn’t have time to muster the feudal levies. The only way I could get here before the Saracen siege army closed around you was to take every mounted knight available in Jerusalem—except Aimery, of course, whom I left in command there. I called up every able-bodied knight in Jerusalem, and they came!” He sounded a little surprised at that, and Balian caught a glimpse of his inner uncertainty—which also explained his elation. Baldwin had issued a command he hadn’t really believed would be followed. It surprised and excited him to find that he did indeed command the forces of the Kingdom, despite his handicap.
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