Sir Bartholomew led the party to the back entrance for ease of stabling the horses, and as Ibelin led his horse in out of the rain he was ambushed by Eskinder. “My lord!” the Ethiopian youth asked anxiously, taking the bridle of Ibelin’s horse, but standing still and confronting his lord. “Where are my father and Dawit? Where are my sister and Beth and Menelik?”
Maria Zoё saw her husband stiffen as he’d been hit, but his face remained an impenetrable mask. “Your father, sister and Beth with Menelik did not wish to endure another siege. They decided to continue to Tripoli. Your father wants to take them to Ethiopia.”
“And Dawit?” Eskinder demanded in a voice that suggested he already sensed the answer.
“Dawit gave his life for —“ Ibelin broke himself off. He had been about to say “for Jerusalem” but that was not true. When Dawit died, Jerusalem had already been lost. “for 60,000 Christians.”
Eskinder just stared at him and around them everyone else had fallen so still and silent that they could hear the rain plattering on the cobbles of the street outside.
“After the Saracens had breached the walls and I went out to negotiate with Salah ad-Din, some of the Saracens managed to take the northeastern tower. They planted the Sultan’s banners on it, and Salah ad-Din pointed to them, mocking my attempts to negotiate by scoffing that ‘one did not negotiate for a city one already held.’ But in that moment a Christian counter-attack flung the banners and the Sultan’s men down off the walls. We saw them fall, and I could answer that the city was not yet his. It was Dawit who led that desperate attack against the men already on our walls. If he had not done so — if he had failed — none of us would have survived in freedom. Not one man, woman or child. He saved his father, sister, wife and son — but gave his own life.”
A murmur of appreciation surrounded them, and several men crossed themselves.
“And Gabriel?” It was Ernoul, who asked this question, his voice already taught with the expectation of bad news.
“Gabriel was with me on the last night before the surrender when we made a last sortie at night in the hope of reaching the Sultan’s tent and killing him.” Ibelin paused. Had he really hoped to reach the Sultan’s tent? No, that had been a fairytale for the others. He’d hoped only to die honorably rather than face humiliation, slavery and possibly torture. “We were overwhelmed by the Sultan’s cavalry and forced back through the Jehoshaphat Gate almost as soon as we sallied forth. Unfortunately, Gabriel’s horse went down in the confusion, and he fell into Saracen hands. I had hoped to ransom him after the surrender had been negotiated, but Salah ad-Din told me personally that he had refused to accept imprisonment and requested execution. I suppose at the time he thought our situation hopeless and preferred a quick end to the prospect of slavery.” Ibelin paused thinking for the hundredth time of Gabriel’s dilemma and regretting again that he had allowed this to happen. Out loud he said simply, “He was very proud.”
Stunned, Ernoul stood by as Ibelin and his lady continued deeper into the stables, heading for the passageway to the house. Gabriel had been Ernoul’s only friend when he came to the Ibelin household an incompetent and unwilling squire. Gabriel had saved Ernoul’s life at Hattin, dragging him onto his own horse, after Ernoul had been severely wounded and was about to fall between the horses to his death. Gabriel had tended Ernoul’s wounds and loaded him on a sledge behind his horse to get him from Hattin to Safed and then Tyre. And it was only because Ernoul was still recovering from his wounds that Gabriel had gone with Ibelin to Jerusalem. Ernoul felt very cold and lonely all of a sudden.
The sound of voices echoing in the passage from the stables alerted John and his siblings to the fact that their father had evaded their ambush at the front door and taken them by surprise from the rear. With a cry of outrage, John ran across the inner courtyard and flung himself at his father just as the latter reached the kitchen entrance. The little boy collided with his father so hard that the tall man staggered slightly. Then he realized what had hit him and closed his arms around his son like a drowning man around his rescuer.
As Maria Zoё watched, her husband seemed to crack and tears started flooding down his face as he clung to his son. Then Helvis and Margaret and Philip caught up with John and he let go of John to try to embrace them all. Margaret and Philip were jumping up and down with excitement, while Helvis cuddled up against her father.
Then one of his tears splashed on Helvis’ cheek and she looked up to ask, “Why are you crying, Daddy? Aren’t you glad to see us?”
“Christ!” Balian gasped and broke down altogether.
Maria Zoё gently but firmly pushed her bewildered children apart and took Balian in her own arms. “It’s alright, my love. You’re home safe.”
Balian couldn’t answer, but he held her to him and the children stood around gazing up at him silenced and sobered by the sight of their father crying, while the household looked at one another in concern and sympathy both.
Slowly, Balian got a hold of himself and released his grasp of Maria Zoё. Taking a deep breath he turned to Helvis and smiled at her through his wet face, reaching out to stroke her silky curls as he assured her. “Yes, sweetheart, I’m glad to see you. You see, tears can be a sign of joy as well as sadness.”
My three-part biographical novel is dedicated to bringing Balian, his age and society "back to life."
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The first two books in the Balian d'Ibelin series, Knight of Jerusalem and Defender of Jerusalem are available for purchase.
A landless knight,
a leper king,and the struggle for Jerusalem.
A divided kingdom,
a united enemy,
and the struggle for Jerusalem
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