Richildis and Eschiva waited inside the barbican with a welcome cup for the Queen of Jerusalem as she rode in at the head of her entourage. She was wearing a deep purple velvet cloak, evidently lined with wolf. That was to be expected, of course, but Richildis was intimidated by the way she cantered into the ward, riding a gray mare so hot-blooded that she arched her neck and lifted her tail as the Queen reined her in. Richildis was afraid of horses like that.
Richildis had not seen Maria Zoë since King Baldwin’s coronation. She remembered the Queen as an arrogant, bejeweled creature at the high table, stiff and impassive. She was startled when Maria Zoë threw back the fur-trimmed hood of her cloak and sent her a dazzling smile. Only now did Richildis register that she had big, wide-set amber eyes in a perfectly symmetrical face, an elegant, thin nose, and soft, rose-colored lips. She was beautiful, Richildis registered—and Richildis distrusted beautiful women.
Dutifully but resentfully, Richildis sank into a deep curtsy, tugging Eschiva down with her, and rose to find that the Queen had already dismounted, turned her horse over to a squire, and was offering her hand.
“My lady of Ramla.” She stopped the flustered Richildis from curtsying again. “Thank you so much for extending your hospitality in these difficult times. I know how much Ibelin has suffered, and I am here not to be a burden, but to see if there is some way I can help.”
Before Richildis could recover from her astonishment at this announcement, the Queen turned and smiled at Eschiva, who was staring up at her as if she were the Queen of Heaven rather than the Queen of Jerusalem. “You must be Eschiva.”
“I’m the wife of Aimery de Lusignan,” Eschiva introduced herself boldly.
“Ah, Madame de Lusignan,” the Queen answered, instantly recognizing Eschiva’s pride in her married status, “your lord husband charged me with bringing you a kiss.” The Queen at once bent forward and kissed a blushing Eschiva on the forehead.
With this little lie (for Richildis did not believe for a moment that Aimery de Lusignan had sent his wife a kiss), the Queen overwhelmed Richildis’ prejudice against pretty women. The kiss made Eschiva beam with happiness, and Richildis could no longer hold back a smile of her own. As she gestured to the exterior stone steps leading up to the hall, it was with sincere warmth. “Your grace, please! Come in.”
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