Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

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, November 12, 2017

"Negotiations with the Devil" - An Excerpt from "The Last Crusader Kingdom"

The German philosopher Carl von Clausewitz rightly noted that war is the continuation of politics by "other" means. Likewise, when the political objectives of a conflict remain illusive -- or the price of conflict becomes too high -- most parties seek to resolve differences by non-violent means. At that point negotiations with "the enemy" -- whoever that may be -- become necessary, and compromise essential.




From the top of the escarpment, Sir Galvin and Ibelin’s other men watched anxiously. They shared Ibelin’s assessment of the sailors, and while they could not see Brother Zotikos’ eyes, they hardly needed to. His every gesture exuded hostility and aggression, so much so that [the dog] Barry lowered his head and curled his lips in a threatening stance. 
Sir Galvin glanced over his shoulder to Sir Sergios. The Maronite Syrian had served the Count of Tripoli at Hattin, but had been fighting under Ibelin’s banner ever since the great armed pilgrimage from the West that had wrested control of the coast back from Saladin. He was a superb archer, and he already had his bow out of its case. His quiver hung from the pommel of his saddle.

Sir Galvin nodded to him, and he fitted an arrow onto the string, lifted the bow, pulled the string back to his ear, and looked down the arrow with narrowed eyes at his target: the Greek monk’s broad chest. He nodded, then gently eased the string back to the uncocked position, yet kept the arrow notched. At this range, he was confident he could kill the Greek monk before he could do any harm to their lord.

None of Ibelin’s men could hear what was being said, but they could see the monk gesturing wildly with his arms. He threw them out wide, then rotated his right arm like a windmill. Then his hands formed fists that he held under Ibelin’s nose. A moment later he thrust out an index finger and jabbed the air in front of Ibelin’s face―eliciting an angry warning bark from Barry, whom John was visibly restraining from attacking.

Throughout it all, Ibelin appeared impassive. His stance was relaxed, his arms akimbo, his weight on his right leg with his left bent and slightly forward. His men recognized he was actually poised to swing his weight forward with his right fist if he needed to. Compared to the apparent flood of words that accompanied the dramatic gestures of the monk, Ibelin appeared to say very little. Once or twice he lifted his head as if to make a short remark. Each time his words provoked a new round of angry gestures from the monk, followed by increasingly violent gestures from Barry.

Once Father Andronikos tried to intervene, only to harvest a series of stabs with an index finger in his direction from the younger monk. John, meanwhile, was having trouble holding his dog, and was clearly distressed, confused, and a little frightened. He looked at his father for guidance, but the elder Ibelin remained calm, signaling for him to restrain the dog.

“I don’t think things are going well,” Sir Galvin observed generally, and Georgios shook his head sadly.

Abruptly, Ibelin turned his back on the monk and started back up the escarpment. The monk shouted furiously after him, making Georgios wince at the crude threat. Sir Galvin looked over, on the brink of asking for a translation, but then thought better of it. On the beach Father Andronikos was evidently trying to reason with the angry young monk, his hand on the latter’s arm. The younger man shook him off, and with a violent, dismissive gesture started striding toward his boat. The sailors were already shoving it back into the water; the stern floated while the bow remained on the sand, ready for Zotikos to re-board.

Ibelin reached the top of the escarpment slightly breathless from the climb, and held out his hand for his sword belt. “Hopeless!” he announced to his men, snatching the belt and wrapping it around his waist to buckle it snugly. “He insists that they will keep fighting until we are either driven from the island like the Templars, or all dead.” He grabbed the reins of his stallion, threw them back over the horse’s head, and gathered them up as he pointed his toe in the stirrup to haul himself into the saddle.

He was so agitated that he swung his horse around and started to ride off before John had had a chance to mount. Then he caught himself and waited, his expression grim.

“So they wouldn’t consider exchanging the abbot for Toron?” Sir Galvin asked, puzzled and disbelieving.

“No. That monk is a fanatic. He is incapable of compromise or negotiation. Saladin was pure reason compared to him!”

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