Baldwin’s head shifted on the pillow: a nod of understanding, acceptance. “Balian, I—I think I’m dying.”
Balian could see the fear in the young King’s eyes and heard it in his whisper, too. He tried to reassure his former pupil and protégé. “You have nothing to fear, Baldwin. Christ is waiting to receive you into his arms.”
“I—I—I’m not sure. Jerusalem—so many have—died—suffered—” Baldwin’s head began to roll from side to side, his breathing coming with obvious difficulty.
Balian tried to calm him. He reached out his hand and laid it on Baldwin’s sweat-soaked shoulder. “It’s all right, Baldwin. The barons of Jerusalem know their duty. We will not fail Jerusalem.”
“Sibylla—is not strong. Not like—Tante Marie.” For a fragile instant, Baldwin almost seemed to smile at the comparison. “Tante—a Queen.”
“Yes, she is every inch a queen,” Balian answered proudly; at times like these he still found it hard to grasp the generosity of God and this king in giving him such a high-born bride. He did not see that he deserved a dowager queen, but he was grateful that God had seen things differently.
“You will—recognize—Sibylla—” Was that an order or a question?
Either way, the answer was the same: “Yes, Baldwin.”
“Burgundy,” Baldwin gasped out, baffling Baldwin, who looked to Ibrahim. Was he asking for Burgundy wine?
Ibrahim was waiting, but not with wine. He had a cloth dipped in cool water and he wiped the sweat from the King’s face, then offered him chilled water from a silver chalice.
Baldwin had to lift his head to sip, and this seemed to exhaust him. He sank back into the pillows, but his hollow eyes sought out Balian. “Tell—Tante Marie—love her.”
“Yes.” Balian looked at Ibrahim and the older man nodded. It was time to go. “You are in our prayers, Baldwin.”
Already the lids had fallen over Baldwin’s eyes and his breathing was deep but labored.
Balian drew back and stepped down from the platform supporting the bed. He turned to Ibrahim with a sincere but subdued “thank you.” It was hard to see Baldwin like this, and Balian now felt certain this was the last time he would see Baldwin alive.
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