“Cyprus is in revolt.”
“What?” King Richard gasped, his arms dropping instinctively to his sword-belt, his entire body alert and tense.
“Yes; we left too few—and the wrong—men in charge. They tried to impose Latin rites on the entire population, turning out the local clergy—”
“Are you Templars mad?” King Richard challenged, furious. “For God’s sake, I took the island so easily largely because I promised them I wouldn’t do that! I said everything would remain as it was, except that I’d be their liege rather than that sadistic ass Isaac. I promised—”
“My lord,” Sablé tried to calm him. “You are right. I make no excuses for the Templar commanders. They were shortsighted and foolish, and I—I was too focused on things here. I did not exercise proper oversight. I thought our instructions had been sufficiently clear. Evidently they were not. Now the whole island is in revolt, and the Templars are holed up in their house in Nicosia, begging for reinforcements to recapture the island—”
“Not one bloody archer!” King Richard opened, and followed it with profane threats of what the Templars deserved instead. The Lionheart raged because this was the last straw. He shouted and cursed, venting all his pent-up fury with his brother John and the King of France, and indeed with God himself, for allowing his brother and Philip to band together to destroy him while he was on this sacred mission in the Holy Land. He wanted to retake Jerusalem. He wanted to restore the Kingdom’s viability. He wanted to humiliate Salah ad-Din. He didn’t want to scuttle for home like the vile, cowardly Philip Capet!
But he had to go.
And now Sablé was telling him that his greatest conquest, Cyprus—the one thing he thought he had truly achieved for the sake of the Holy Land—was also at risk. Everything he had accomplished at home and here was disintegrating—as if they were no more substantial than sand castles overwhelmed by a powerful wave. Precisely because he could feel things slipping out of his once seemingly powerful hands, Richard raged. He pounded his fist down on the nearest table, making the cups and bowls jump into the air as it shook.
Over the years Sablé had weathered more than one Plantagenet rage, particularly from Richard’s father, Henry II. He was not intimidated by this outburst, although he was acutely aware that it was a great advantage to no longer be a subject of the English King. Braving the King’s temper, he urged, “Hear me out, my lord. I’m not suggesting we divert troops from Palestine. What I propose is that we, the Knights Templar, return the island of Cyprus to you.”
“What the hell am I supposed to do with it?” Richard roared back. “Now, of all times! I need to return to England! Haven’t you heard a damn thing I’ve said all the bleeding day?”
“Your grace, if we restore the island of Cyprus to you, you are free to bestow it on someone else.”
“And why should I want to do that?” King Richard demanded furiously. “Cyprus is as vital to the survival of Jerusalem as everything else put together—particularly in the precarious condition it is in now. For Christ’s sake! All we control is the coastal strip! Are you all so bloody blind that you can’t see that’s not enough territory to even feed the Christian population? Nor can the ports of the coast survive unless we control the eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus is the breadbasket and the sentry on the sea lanes to the cities of the Levant! Cyprus must become an invincible bastion from which to launch future campaigns against the Saracens. Why does no one else seem to understand that?” Richard ended, almost in tears from the frustration and the stress.
“We do understand—but the knights of my order are better used here in Palestine, fighting on the front lines. On the other hand, someone like Guy de Lusignan, who should never again be allowed to command troops confronting the Saracens, is not unqualified to restore order and then serve as the caretaker of Cyprus. If you give him Cyprus, he will not be tempted to thwart or undermine the authority of Conrad de Montferrat.”
King Richard stared at Sablé in astonishment. The idea was so radical that for several seconds he said nothing at all as he absorbed it and then turned it over in his mind. Guy had proved himself a poor leader of men and a terrible military commander. Could he be trusted to restore order and secure Cyprus for the future?
“It’s not so much Guy I’m thinking about,” Sablé admitted, as if reading Richard’s thoughts. “But if you give it to him, his brothers will go with him.”
“Ah,” Richard was beginning to understand, “and that would kill two birds with one stone. We’d not only keep the troublesome Lusignans from challenging Montferrat and dividing the Franks here in the Holy Land, we’d also keep that rebellious band far away from Poitou—where they would almost certainly ally themselves with Philip of France as they have in the past.”
“But are they capable of getting the situation on Cyprus under control?”
“In my estimation, Geoffrey and Aimery are—provided they restore the Orthodox Church.”
Richard did not answer right away. His eyes were unsettled as he thought through various scenarios—but the rage was gone, Sablé noted, and that was good. In the end he said only, “The proposal has merit. I’ll think about it.”
“No solution is perfect, my lord,” Sablé reminded him. “But I think you will find this the best of the options at hand.”
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