Out of the darkness that face emerged to confront Balian. It was blackened, however, as if burned, and encased in a Bedouin headdress. Balian caught his breath and stepped back, certain he was facing a ghost.
The ghost, however, laughed. “Afraid of your own brother, are you?”
“Henri! Where have you come from?”
“Hell,” came the simple answer.
The answer seemed to corroborate that this was his brother’s soul, but at the same time the image seemed far too substantial. Dust soiled and weighed down the hem of the Bedouin robes, and the smell of sweat—thick and masculine—oozed from his brother as he blocked the passageway. Surely ghosts wouldn’t smell?
“Châtillon tells me you went voluntarily,” Balian ventured an answer.
His brother laughed harshly. “Oh, that I did, and the heaven part came before the hell. Ever make love to a harem slave? I assure you, it’s like nothing else in the world!” He laughed again. “And they have wine in Aden, Balian, like the nectar of lotus that drove Ulysses’ men mad. You can’t imagine what it’s like to lick that sweet wine from the thighs of dancing girls. And the treasure, Balian, the treasure was more than we could carry. The men started paying their whores with ruby rings and ivory bracelets. I could have bought Ibelin ten times over with what I had in my sea chest alone.”
“Ibelin is not for sale,” Balian replied, certain now that this was no apparition but his brother, very much in the flesh, who had somehow managed to disguise himself as a Bedouin and escape the vengeance of the Egyptian authorities.
“No? I’m not so sure. Even our saintly little leper might have been tempted by the treasure I could have lain before him. It was surely enough to build a wall all around the Kingdom of Jerusalem—or pay a thousand knights from the West.”
“He might have been tempted,” Balian agreed, “if you had managed to keep it and bring it here.”
“They trapped us, Balian.” The tone of voice changed from triumph to bitterness. “We were betrayed! I killed a dozen of the Pisan bastards—just to set an example—but it was too late. We had to abandon all we had—the ships, the treasure, the girls—and head inland. But the Bedouins led us into a ravine with no escape and then tried to disappear among the rocks. I chased after them while the rest of the fools fought off our pursuers. The rock crevices were so sharp, they cut like the edge of a knife.” He opened his hands and looked down on them as if amazed by the jagged, scabbed lines that now deformed them.
Balian waited, torn between shock and sympathy.
“I finally brought one of the bastards down, cut his throat, and took his robes. I dressed his corpse in my armor and kicked it over the edge of the cliff. It rolled its way back into the ravine to land at the feet of the Egyptian troops, the face so smashed and ravaged by the rock edges that they never even suspected the deception. When they looked up, I waved back to them, clenched my fist over my head, and shouted “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” The idiots answered with similar shouts and never even tried to come after me.”
“I’m surprised the Bedouins didn’t get you,” Balian observed, still trying to sort out his feelings; he was glad Henri was alive, and yet ashamed of what he’d done.
Henri just laughed. “So am I. Of course, I still had some gold in my purse that helped with some of them. The others I had to kill.”
“You have a lot to confess, it would seem,” Balian concluded. After all, it was not his place to judge his brother; that was for God to do.
“Don’t preach to me, Balian. You haven’t been where I was.”
“No, and I hope I never am.”
“Barry always said you weren’t ambitious enough.”
“I’m a baron of Jerusalem and an honorable man. That’s good enough for me.”
“Yes, I know. But not for me. Did Châtillon tell you about the little girl he’s going to give me?”
“Yes, with a fief worth more than Ibelin; I know. You’re welcome to it, Henri, because you are right: I would not have done what you have done to get it. May God have mercy on your soul.”
“That sounds rather like you are washing your hands of me.”
“Yes.” Something in Henri’s tone sounded distressed, as if some last flickering remnant of decency, or maybe just affection, had flared up in him. Or maybe he was just suddenly afraid of losing Balian.
Balian heard it, but it was too faint to sway him. “You are beyond my help, Henri. Go collect your earthly reward from Châtillon, and see that you enjoy it, for the Day of Judgment will not be far behind, and I do not want to be in your shoes.”
Balian turned and walked back in the direction of the chapel.
Henri called after him. “Nor I in yours, Balian! Nor I in yours! For all your goodness will not help you when Salah ad-Din comes!”
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