A squire pushed open the tent flap and bowed to his liege. “Your grace?”
“What is it?” Guy snapped irritably at the youth.
“My lord of Ibelin just rode into the camp!”
“Ibelin! Thank God for that! With his brother’s and his wife’s knights, he commands the largest contingent in the entire army after Tripoli himself. He must have nigh on three hundred knights, almost as many as the Templars, not to mention his turcopoles and sergeants.” Aimery was about to correct his brother’s exaggerated estimate: Ibelin, Nablus, Ramla, and Mirabel together owed only one hundred sixty-five knights, and with household knights might field two hundred or a tad more, but before he could curb his brother’s enthusiasm, Guy was already ordering the squire, “Tell him to camp to the left of the Templars.”
The squire looked frightened and glanced nervously at Aimery, preferring to address the Constable rather than the King. “Ah, my lord of Ibelin is alone except for two household knights.”
“What?” Guy gasped.
Before anyone could answer, Ibelin himself ducked through the flap and came to stand before a stunned Guy de Lusignan. For a moment they just stared at one another, Guy vaguely alarmed. Then Ibelin bent his knee and bowed his head so perfunctorily that it was almost insulting—before standing upright so close to Guy that he looked down on him from his greater height.
“Your grace, just what is the intention of this muster? Why were your vassals summoned to Nazareth with all their knights and turcopoles?”
“To put an end to the treason of the Count of Tripoli!” Guy retorted, as he instinctively moved backwards so that he was not so directly under Balian’s nose.
“Treason?” Ibelin asked with raised eyebrows, as if he didn’t know what Guy was referring to.
“No vassal of Jerusalem has the right to make a separate peace with the Saracens! Tripoli may think he is an independent prince, but we will teach him differently. We will besiege him at Tiberias, and he will have to either kill himself or grovel on his knees before us.”
“Think again,” Ibelin warned, staring Guy down.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Guy demanded, lifting his chin defiantly.
“First, Tiberias is almost impossible to besiege, because the Sea of Galilee provides it with endless supplies of fresh water, fish to eat, lines of communication, reinforcement, and escape. Second, you have already driven away the finest knight in your Kingdom; it is stupid to lose the most powerful lord as well. In short, I am here to urge you to cease this madness. For the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we all serve, stop this war upon Christians and save your strength to fight the Saracens!”
Guy spluttered, repeating, “Tripoli is a traitor! He has made a separate truce with Salah al-Din!”
“And why do you think he took such desperate measures?” Ibelin snapped back, causing Aimery to lift his head sharply.
“Tripoli has always favored accommodation with the enemy,” Guy replied. “He’s essentially a coward, afraid to fight.”
“Don’t be a fool!” retorted Ibelin, his face flushed with emotion. The Kingdom, the Holy Land, stood on a precipice—and if Guy could not be persuaded, harassed, or bullied into stopping his assault on Tiberias, they were all going to fall into that chasm and die. Not just the barons and knights of Outremer, but their wives and children, and the ordinary people in towns and villages across the Kingdom as well. Since his failure to convince Tripoli to accept Guy de Lusignan, Ibelin’s sense of impending doom had increased to the point where it utterly blotted out all other thoughts. He had become a driven man.
Aimery understood. Before Guy could answer indignantly, he cut him off with a simple: “Ibelin’s right. Tripoli is no coward! He’s fought for this Kingdom more often than you. And he’s no fool, either! So, sit down and let’s discuss this like civilized men.” He pointed to the folding chairs, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, that furnished the royal tent. Turning to the terrified squire who stood stock-still just inside the tent flap, he ordered, “Breathe not a word of what has transpired here, and make sure no one else enters, but let us know if any other barons or the Hospitallers arrive.”
When the squire was gone, Aimery confronted his brother. “Edessa’s clever plan may have opened the doors of the Holy Sepulcher, and Heraclius and Sibylla between them may have put a crown on your pretty golden locks, but a fat count without a county, a stupid woman, and a debauched priest cannot keep you on your throne. More important: they cannot save your ass from Salah al-Din! Do I make myself clear?”
Balian held his breath, knowing that Aimery was the only man in the world who could talk to Guy de Lusignan like this—even now the elder to the younger brother, no matter that the younger was an anointed king. Guy sat with his jaws clenched and his face flushed, but he did not interrupt or talk back.
Aimery continued, “You can either rip out your own guts by attacking Tripoli and leave two gutted carcasses for the Saracens to finish off, or you can reconcile with Tripoli and reunite this Kingdom.”
“How the hell can I reconcile with a man who refuses to accept me as his king?” Guy shouted at his older brother. In that instant Balian saw Guy’s fear and insecurity and held his breath with hope.
“By begging him!” Aimery answered coldly, looking his brother in the eye. “Beg him on your knees if you have to. Tell him you need him. Thank him for his past service. Flatter him, cajole him, honor him, humor him. But stop treating him like an enemy and make him an ally!”
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