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 is my father? Where are my sister and Beth and Menelik?”
Maria Zoë saw her husband stiffen as if 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 chose to continue to Tripoli, and from there to Ethiopia.”
“And Dawit?” Eskinder demanded. “Sir Bartholomew said he was killed in the siege, but I have a right to know more. How and when did he die?”
“Yes, you do,” Ibelin agreed solemnly. “Everyone should hear the news, for it was after the Saracens had breached the walls and I had gone out to negotiate with Salah ad-Din that some 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.’ In that moment a Christian counterattack 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.” He paused to lend his words greater weight before continuing, “It was Dawit who led that desperate attack against the men already on our walls.”
A murmur of awe and appreciation surrounded them, and several men crossed themselves.
“On the very last day, the last hour …” Eskinder murmured in numbed horror.
“Dawit gave his life for—” Ibelin broke off. He had been about to say “for Jerusalem,” but that was not true. When Dawit died, Jerusalem was already been lost. “For sixty thousand Christian lives.”
Eskinder stared at him, and around them everyone else had fallen so still and silent that they could hear the rain splattering on the cobbles of the street outside.
Ibelin continued, “If he had not done so—if he had failed—none of us would have survived in freedom,” Ibelin told them. “Not one man, woman, or child. Dawit gave his life for his his father, sister, wife, and son. I cannot believe that he regrets that choice.”
A murmur of assent followed, and many crossed themselves again as they commended Dawit’s soul to God.
“And Gabriel?” It was Ernoul who asked the next question. Like Eskinder, he knew already from Sir Bartholomew that Gabriel was dead, but he too wanted more of the details.
“Gabriel was with me until the night before the surrender. That night we made a last sortie 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 fairy tale 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 Gabriel had refused to accept imprisonment and requested execution. I suppose at the time he thought our situation was 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.”
Ernoul remained stunned in place as Ibelin and his lady continued toward the passageway to the house. Gabriel had been Ernoul’s only friend when he came to the Ibelin household as 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 their lord to Jerusalem, while Ernoul stayed behind in Tyre. The news of his heroic death left Ernoul feeling very cold and lonely.
The sound of voices echoing in the passage from the stables alerted Balian’s children 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 his rescuer.
As Maria Zoë watched, her husband seemed to crack, and tears began 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 Zoë gently but firmly pushed her bewildered children apart and took Balian in her own arms. “It’s all right, 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 both concern and sympathy.
Slowly, Balian got hold of himself and released his grasp on Maria Zoë. 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 reassured 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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