Kingdom of Jerusalem, December 1177
“Hurt?” The old slave looked up at Balian with tears in his eyes. “I cannot tell you the pain I am in, my lord.” His lips were quivering with emotion. “The leprosy is spreading again and it has become ulcerous! My lord’s feet are covered with running soars, and his own sister does not care! Does not even want to hear about it!”
Balian turned to stare at the closed door separating him from
and then he reached down and helped Ibrahim to his feet. “I will go to him—“
“No, my lord! He ordered me to keep everyone away! I tried to stop Lady Sibylla, but –“
“I will go to him, Ibrahim, and he will not blame you. Zoe! Come help Ibrahim wash the blood from his lips and nose.”
Maria Zoe was already taking the old slave by his elbow and leading him to one of the waiting benches, while Balian gently opened the door to the inner chamber and slipped inside.
The chamber was completely dark. Not a single candle burned here and the only light came from a double-light window facing west out of city to the luminescent sky in which the sun had set. Balian stood inside the door adjusting to the dark, searching with his eyes and ears for the room’s occupant. After almost a minute, he realized that there was no one in sight, but the curtains to the bed were closed. Taking a deep breath, Balian moved silently to the bed and slowly drew back the curtain.
Baldwin croaked out of a throat cramped from suppressing
his sobs. “Why does God hate me, Ibrahim?”
“He does not hate you, Baldwin.”
“Balian! Where did you come from?”
Baldwin reared up and
turned around in a single gesture. He stared at his friend with wide eyes and a
face streaked with tears.
“We’ve been waiting in the anteroom for hours, but were told you were not ready to receive us. Ibrahim tried to stop me, so don’t blame him.”
“Of course not! If I’d known you – Oh, Balian, have you heard? The leprosy. We thought it had stopped spreading but it’s –“
down again and started sobbing.
Balian sat down on the bed and pulled the teenager into his arms. “Ibrahim told me.”
Baldwin cried into his breast. “Why? Why? Why? What have
I done to deserve this? Why does God want to punish me? For what?”
“Not for anything you have done,
Baldwin. Like Christ,
you are suffering for our sins ― the sins
of your subjects.”
“That’s not fair, Balian! Other kings don’t suffer for the sins of their subjects. Why me?”
“I don’t know,
Baldwin, I can only tell you that while you may suffer in
this life, He will take you into his
arms like a long lost son in the next. You will go straight to heaven, Baldwin, while the rest of us languish in our graves, in
purgatory or in hell. He has laid upon you the suffering He reserves only for
those He loves most: His Son, His saints and His martyrs.”
“I have to, Your Grace, or I would lose faith in God himself.”
“Or He wants to reward you in a different way,”
suggested with a weak attempt at a smile. “Why are you here?”
“To ask ― to ask a favor,” Balian confessed.