King Richard was housed in the Templar commandery, and he had taken advantage of the baths. He was freshly washed, glowing from the scrubbing down and smelling of balsam oil, when Ibelin was admitted. His hair had grown back surprisingly thick and curly after he’d lost it to Arnoldia, and it shimmered in the candlelight, his still-wet beard glistening. He had removed his chain mail and was dressed only in shirt, hose, and a surcoat with exquisite embroidery. “My lord of Ibelin. Welcome.” he opened in a firm voice that was neither loud nor soft. “Join me.” He indicated a table with a magnificent mosaic surface, the work of Greek craftsmen.
Ibelin bowed his head first, then cautiously took the chair indicated.
“I have to admit, I wasn’t sure you would rejoin the army after you left us in October,” Richard opened.
“I wasn’t sure I would be welcomed back,” Ibelin countered.
Richard raised his eyebrows and looked at him sidelong. “Why not?”
“‘There goes Balian d’Ibelin, as treacherous as a gobelin.’” Ibelin quoted simply.
Richard snorted and shrugged. “Toron made no secret that you were negotiating with Salah ad-Din on Montferrat’s behalf. It didn’t go down well with my men.”
“Why is it all right for you to negotiate and not Montferrat?” Ibelin asked.
“Because Montferrat represents no one but himself!” the Lionheart snapped back, adding in a calmer tone, “While I am trying to make a deal that would secure the Holy Land for Christ.”
“By marrying your sister to al-Adil?” Ibelin’s tone was carefully moderate. He didn’t want to sound outright mocking—it was rarely wise to mock a king—but nevertheless he wanted to express his skepticism.
The King of England was taken off guard. He had attempted to keep the terms of that particular proposal very secret, especially after his sister suggested to him that it was all a joke and a ruse. “How did you hear about that?” he asked sharply.
“Al-Adil was rather pleased with himself for coming up with proposal; he made no secret of it. Sidon heard of it directly from him.”
“Then he was serious?” King Richard found himself asking, his eyes watching Ibelin alertly.
“I’m sure he would have been very pleased to be made King of Jerusalem, with all the land previously held by the Frankish kings. Your sister, on the other hand, would have found herself imprisoned in a harem or simply discarded the moment you sailed away. It would have been a perfect, bloodless way for the Saracens to win the war, reclaim all the territory you have reconquered, get rid of you and the crusaders, and insult you into the bargain.”
“What do you mean, insult me?”
“A woman’s male relatives are always dishonored when she is repudiated by her husband, because in the Muslim tradition the woman is always to blame for any marital discord. In short, the Queen of Sicily would have been publicly declared unworthy of al-Adil, and you would have been the laughingstock of the entire Muslim world.”
King Richard was slowly flushing with anger as he grasped the magnitude of the hoax they had been playing on him. “Then it is well done,” he said in a tight voice, “that I said I needed papal approval for the match—unless al-Adil converted to Christianity.”
“Yes, that should put an end to the proposal,” Ibelin agreed steadily. “Al-Adil is no more likely to convert to Christianity than you are to Islam.”
“Let us return to your own negotiations, then. You were there on behalf of Montferrat—which is damned near treason to the Christian cause!” The English King’s tone had turned belligerent.
“He proposed falling on my flank and fighting his fellow Christians!” the Lionheart snarled.
“Not when I was representing him,” Ibelin faced the Lionheart down.
“I refused to deliver that message, because I could not support it. If we could have secured peace in the north, and then concentrated our forces in the south, then it would have been a peace worth making.”
They stared at one another, measuring each other. The Plantagenet broke eye contact first. He helped himself to some of the nuts in a bowl on the table, then looked again at Ibelin. “And what of this proposal that I be crowned King of Jerusalem? Are you serious about it?”
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