“You don’t seem to understand the danger you are in, my lady. Richard Plantagenet—”
“Has been fighting for and regaining my kingdom, while you and your knights drink and gamble and whore in Acre!” Isabella flung at the Bishop of Beauvais as she got to her feet. She was exhausted and emotionally drained, and she could feel that she was on the brink of losing her self-control completely. Isabella knew herself well enough to know that if she didn’t break off this conversation now, she was likely to start screaming hysterically. She did not want to do that in front of her subjects and Montferrat’s men, so her only option was to depart now—before it happened.
The Bishop sputtered protests and bristled with indignation. “How dare you impute such base—”
“I’ve heard enough!” Isabella cut him off. “I will not surrender Tyre to anyone but the man the High Court chooses as my consort! That was my husband’s dying wish, and nothing will convince me to change my mind or do otherwise!” Then she spun about and strode as fast as she could—without running—to the stairwell. As she disappeared inside, a cheer went up from the men in the hall.
The Bishop of Beauvais was stunned. He had not expected any resistance from Isabella. He had seriously imagined she would fall into his arms in weeping gratitude. He found himself face to face with the Dowager Queen, and she was looking bemused.
“Your daughter is a hysterical young woman,” he told the older woman, hoping to win her sympathy. They had, after all, been allies in removing Isabella from Humphrey and ensuring her marriage to Montferrat. “No doubt being with child has unbalanced her mind.”
Maria Zoë knew her daughter well enough to know that she could indeed appear “hysterical”; she was passionate and spirited, she had thrown terrible temper tantrums as a child, and she had admitted to having violent fights with Conrad. Maria Zoë knew exactly why her daughter had left so precipitously, but she also supported every single word Isabella had said so far and knew that far from being “hysterical,” she was being very wise. It was only her method of delivery that had been somewhat flawed. Because Maria Zoë had been schooled at the court in Constantinople, she knew it would have been better if Isabella had kept her temper under control and had dealt with the Bishop in a more restrained fashion, but none of that diminished her support for her child.
“My lord Bishop,” she opened in a cool, self-possessed tone, “a young widow whose beloved husband died in her arms after being cruelly stabbed to death can certainly be forgiven for being slightly distraught. A bishop and nobleman, on the other hand, with so little sense of propriety—not to mention so little sympathy—as to burst in upon a grieving widow uninvited is . . .” she hesitated long enough to ensure everyone in the room was holding their breath before she delivered the verdict, “a despicable knave. Save your breath!” She held up her hand and cut off Beauvais before he could open his mouth to voice his protests. “Leave aside the manner in which you burst in here and the manner in which my daughter gave you her answer. All that really matters is the substance of what the Queen of Jerusalem just told you.” She paused, made sure the hall was silent with tense anticipation, and then stated firmly and clearly: “She does not need or want your assistance or that of the Duke of Burgundy. Take that message back to Acre.”
The Bishop of Beauvais wasn’t prepared to accept this answer. “My lady, that is not an option. Tyre must be held at all costs, and a distraught” (he smiled condescendingly as he used the word) “pregnant widow cannot be trusted to—”
There was again an uproar from the men in the hall, but Maria Zoë gestured for them to be still. “Cannot be trusted to do what, my lord? Defend her city and her kingdom? You seem unaware that the women of Jerusalem defended the Holy City against Salah ad-Din’s whole army for almost ten days!”
“Come now!” the Bishop scoffed. “Your husband was in command—”
“Yes: of women, children, and priests. Turn around and look at the men here! Tyre is not at risk!”
They cheered her as Maria Zoë had rarely been cheered at any time before.
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