Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Understanding Ourselves by Understanding the Past.


My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Sneak Preview 4: An Excerpt from "Envoy of Jerusalem"


After the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin, the residents were given 40 days to raise a ransom. At the end of this time, Balian d'Ibelin and his knights escorted some 15,000 civilians to the coastal city of Tyre, the only city of the former Kingdom of Jerusalem still in Christian hands. This scene describes their reception.



Georgios had been serving the Baron of Ibelin for roughly three months now, and he had never seen him look so grim. But now, with the city of Tyre at last in sight, Ibelin looked as if he had turned to stone.
Georgios cast him a nervous side-long glance. His cheeks were hollowed out and his eyes sunken in his skull. His hair which had been a dark, lustrous brown before Hattin now had white strands that started at his sideburns, and another that originated on his forehead. His lips were badly chapped, and his face unshaven.
“Damn him!” Ibelin spat out making Georgios jump. “He’s not lowering the drawbridge.”
Georgios looked back toward Tyre and at last noticed what the baron had seen moments earlier. The city was maintaining its vigilant stance as if the approaching 15,000 people were an enemy army rather than Christian refugees. Over the deepened and widened moat that now effectively turned the peninsula on which Tyre stood back into an island were firmly raised the bridges were firmly raised; the gates were shut. The ramparts were manned and the late afternoon sun glinted on the helmets of the soldiers on the wall-walk.
Without a word to his squire, Balian put spurs to his aging palfrey and sprinted forward leaving the slow-moving, lumbering column of refugees in his wake. Georgios was left kicking his less agile gelding to try to catch up. Ibelin galloped to the very edge of the moat and drew up sharply, shouting up at the walls even before his horse had come to a complete halt. “This is Balian d’Ibelin! I have some 15,000 Christian refugees from Jerusalem. I demand that the gates be opened at once!”
Silence answered him, although Georgios could see men scurrying this way and that, apparently seeking instructions.
Ibelin was cursing under his breath in a steady stream, threatening Conrad de Montferrat with various kinds of torture, mutilation, slow-death and damnation. Finally a voice called out from the walls of the city, “Just a moment, my lord! My lord of Montferrat will be here shortly!”
Ibelin swung his horse on forehand to look back at the column of refugees he had been commanding for eleven days. It was still far behind, moving at its snail’s pace, but very visible to the men up on the walls of Tyre.
“He knows exactly who we are and what we want,” Ibelin snarled to his squire without looking at him.  “He’ll have had spies out watching for us ever since he learned the terms of the surrender.”
“Ibelin!” The call came faintly from the closest gate tower.”
“Montferrat?” Ibelin answered, narrowing his eyes against the sun and trying to identify the man who had addressed him.
“The same. I’m lowering the foot bridge. You may enter alone.”
“I’ll tear out his jugular with my own teeth!” Ibelin answered under his breath to Georgios, his eyes fixed on the gate opposite. As they watched, the narrow wooden bridge from one of the posterns started to jerk slowly down from its upright position to the horizontal. Ibelin jumped down from his horse and flung the reins over its head to hand them to Georgios. “Wait here!” He ordered unnecessarily as he strode off in the direction of the bridge that had just settled on the dusty soil this side of the moat.
Ibelin was wearing helmet and chainmail hauberk, but his legs were encased in over-the-knee suede leather boots rather than the heavy and uncomfortable chainmail chausses he wore for battle. His short-sleeved surcoat was particolored: red on the right and bright marigold on the left, and it was studded with crosses in contrasting color. Made of fine Gaza-cotton it rippled and flowed as he strode angrily toward the bridge.
When he reached the far side of the bridge, a man emerged from the narrow, arched door of the postern. Georgios could see only that he was wearing a purple surcoat with what looked like gold, satin trim and black fur edging. Ibelin, who was now much closer, recognized the well-formed and attractive face of Conrad de Montferrat.
The latter bowed (a little mockingly Ibelin found) as the former left the narrow foot-bridge and covered the last several yards to the postern. Ibelin did not return the courtesy. Instead he roared in a harsh, strained and raw voice, “What the hell do think you’re doing keeping your gates shut! I have 15,000 refugees, who have lost practically everything they owned and have been on the road eleven days. They need to get inside these walls before dark so they don’t have to camp out another day! We only have a few more hours of daylight as it is! You shouldn’t be wasting time with whatever goddamned formalities these are!”
“If you’re finished?” Conrad answered with raised eyebrows and an air of superiority.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ibelin snapped back.
“I’m simply asking if you’re done ranting, so I can get a word in edgeways?”
“What the hell is there to say? Lower the goddamned bridge and open the gates!”
“No.”
For all his bluster, Ibelin had been expecting exactly this answer from the moment he realized that Tyre was remaining on the defensive even after his column of refugees had been sighted. It was anticipation of Montferrat’s refusal that had ignited Ibelin’s rage. He was not surprised, therefore, by Montferrat’s “no.” Rather the confirmation of his suspicions had a chilling effect.
Balian d’Ibelin was an exceptionally tall man. He took two steps closer to Montferrat to stand towering over him. “Say that again!” He ordered in an ominously soft voice.
“I obviously don’t need to,” Montferrat answered, backing up a step so he was not so directly under Ibelin’s glare — and nose. “You heard me the first time and you understood me. This city is already over-crowded and at any moment the Saracens may decide to resume their assaults. We’re under siege in any case, cut off by both land and sea. We cannot — I repeat — cannot admit 15,000 more refugees, most of whom are women and children.”
“You’re saying you intend to deny women and children refuge after all they have suffered already?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Unless I have been misinformed, the terms of the surrender of Jerusalem was that those who could raise their ransom would be free to depart Jerusalem with what goods they could carry and proceed unmolested to Christian territory.” Ibelin noted that, as suspected, Montferrat was very well-informed indeed. “Well,” Montferrat made a flippant gesture with his hand in the direction of the north. “Let them proceed to Tripoli! Tripoli is not under siege!”
“Tripoli is damn near 100 miles away! These women and children have already traveled that distance to get here. They are exhausted — emotionally and physically. They need rest and security.”
“They would have neither in Tyre,” Montferrat answered bluntly. “Salah ad-Din is close on your heels. According to my scouts, he is no more than two days behind you with his whole army. He plans to finish the job of conquering the Kingdom of Jerusalem by capturing this city — the last in the entire kingdom to hold out. The battle for Tyre will start at the latest three days from now, and anyone inside this city will be subject to the dangers of siege engines and assaults — neither of which are my definition of peace and security. Furthermore, the longer we resist the assaults the lower will be our supplies. Even without your 15,000 refugees, we will run short of food within as little as three months! With your 15,000, it will be more like three weeks. I can’t — and won’t — take that responsibility!”
They stared at one another. Two hardened veterans of battles and siege warfare, and they recognized that they were well-matched equals. Ibelin had fought at Montgisard, on the Litani, at La Forbelet, the sieges of Kerak and finally at Hattin before taking over the defense of Jerusalem. Montferrat had a reputation from the interminable wars between the Holy Roman Empire and the Holy See. More recently, he had almost single-handedly won the decisive battle that defeated Alexios Branas’ rebellion against the Greek Emperor, and then brought fire and determination to the demoralized city of Tyre, saving it for Christendom. Montferrat had formed a low opinion of Ibelin on his arrival in Tyre, however, because of his obsession with returning to Jerusalem to save his wife and family. After meeting the Dowager Queen and her daughter, and then hearing about Ibelin’s ferocious defense and miraculous treaty at Jerusalem, he’d been forced to revise his opinion. As they faced each other now, it Montferrat who softened his stance first.
“You have been in my shoes, my lord. You know what I’m talking about. The commander of a city under siege sometimes has to make hard decisions—decisions that seem heartless and cruel to clerics and chroniclers far from the din of battle. But you are a fighting man, Ibelin. You know what I’m saying is absolutely true. I cannot afford to admit 15,000 women and children to this city so long as I am blockaded by sea and invested by land. I cannot reduce the fighting capacity or chances of holding this city as long as all hope of regaining the Holy City for Christendom depends upon our ability to hold Tyre long enough for reinforcements to arrive from the West.”
Ibelin knew that Montferrat was right. He recognized it both intellectually and in the marrow of his warrior bones. Montferrat was right, but how could he go back and tell the people he had led here that? He found himself arguing extraneously, “Not all those 15,000 refugees are women and children. There are over 300 men among them, who helped hold Jerusalem. Men who stood in the breach when the walls came down and fought Saladin’s thousands to a standstill.”
“And they are welcome in Tyre!” Montferrat was quick to agree. “Anyone who can contribute to the defense of this city — first and foremost yourself — are welcome. But I cannot and will not admit non-combatants.”
“Most men — or should I say honorable men — fight for their wives and children not for pay or glory.”
“The fighting men may bring their wives and children into the city,” Montferrat made another concession, “but not their sisters, brothers, parents and cousins. Fighting men and their immediate families only — and, of course, your household.” He smiled as he said this, hoping it would mollify Ibelin.
Ibelin just stared back at him with a look between hatred and despair. Then he nodded and turned away.

My three-part biographical novel is dedicated to bringing Balian, his age and society "back to life."



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