THE HEAVY POUNDING OF A MAILED fist on the wooden door reverberated through the narrow stone house. The cook was startled from her sleep and grabbed her groggy husband in terror. “Christ’s bones! Who can that be in the middle of the night?”
On the far side of the room by the still-smoldering fireplace, the two scullery boys sat up. “What is it? Who is it?” the boys asked one another in fright.
“Open up!” a gruff voice shouted through the door.
From the floor above came the sound of muffled voices: Lady Eschiva’s voice was alarmed and questioning, Lord Aimery answered with a calming growl. Then a child started crying. Lady Eschiva hurried to the children’s chamber, and Lord Aimery leaned over the railing to call down the stairs: “Answer the door! Find out who it is and what they want!”
The man-of-all-work in the little household rolled out of the box bed with a grumble and padded barefoot to the door. His hairy, unshapely legs protruded naked from beneath his shirt. “Coming! Coming!” he called as the knock was repeated urgently. When he reached the door, he turned the key and pulled back the bolt to crack it open and peer into the street.
The heavy door was shoved open into his face with so much force that it flung him against the wall and smashed his nose. Blood gushed down to his mouth, and his forehead would wear an ugly bruise.
The men who forced their way inside were dressed in chain mail from head to toe. They wore skullcap helmets with heavy nose guards. Most terrifying of all, they wore surcoats with the arms of Jerusalem on them: they were the King’s men.
“Where’s Lord Aimery?” one of them barked at the stunned servants.
“I’m here!” Aimery called from the floor above. Without hesitation the four armored men pushed past the frightened servants to the stairs at the back of the vaulted room. They pounded up to the next floor, and as they emerged out of the stairway, they found the Constable of Jerusalem hastily donning his surcoat while a young squire held his sword ready for him to take.
“Hold that, boy!” one of the King’s men shouted, springing to put himself between the squire and the Constable. He pushed the squire backwards, pinned him against the wall, and wrenched the sword out of his hands with little trouble.
Meanwhile, the sergeant turned his attention to the Constable himself. “My lord, you are under arrest for high treason! Either you come with us willingly, or we have orders to take you by force.”
Aimery de Lusignan was a handsome man in his early fifties. His shoulder-length blond hair was somewhat disheveled and his face was sprouting the beginnings of a beard, but he had managed to pull on braies, hose, and a gambeson over his nightshirt. He stood with his shoulders squared and his head held high. “The charges are false and slanderous!” he told the sergeant firmly. “I will defend myself before the High Court.”
“Maybe. For now you’re coming with us!” the sergeant answered bluntly, ominously lowering his hand to his hilt.
“Where are you taking me?” the Constable asked gruffly.
“To the royal dungeon, where all traitors are held! Now, are you coming willingly, or must I use force?”
“Will you at least allow me to put on boots?” the Constable asked back in a voice edged with bitterness.
“No tricks!” the sergeant warned, drawing his sword for emphasis before nodding to Lord Aimery to get on with it.
The Constable walked across the room to where his knee-high boots were standing, the soft upper parts flopped over on their sides. He took the suede boots, sat on the nearest chest, and pulled them on one at a time. Then he stood and surveyed the room briefly; whether he was looking for a chance to escape or simply taking a last leave was unclear. The king’s men blocked the door, their swords drawn. They not only ensured he was trapped, they also kept his wife out. He could hear her anxious voice in the hall demanding an explanation. His squire was still pinned against the far wall, his eyes wide with shock and disbelief.
“John, get word to your father of what has happened,” the Constable ordered the youth before walking briskly toward the men sent to arrest him. He allowed them to close around him as he passed out of the door. They clattered down the stairs and out into the street, leaving John and Lady Eschiva standing on the upstairs landing in horrified paralysis.
“Treason?” Lady Eschiva asked the squire. “Did I hear correctly? Champagne has arrested my lord husband for treason? But that’s not possible!” she protested.
“I’ve got to get word to my father at once!” John answered, his voice breaking with tension as the situation threatened to overwhelm him: he would not turn fourteen for another month.
“Mommy! Mommy! What are they going to do with Daddy?” It was the high-pitched voice of eight-year-old Burgundia. Ten-year-old Guy pushed past her, protesting, “They can’t arrest, Daddy! He’s the Constable!”
Eschiva turned toward her children, but then stopped to look over her shoulder to her husband’s squire. “Yes, John, go to your father at once! If Isabella let this happen, he’s the only one who might be able to help us now!”
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