In the civil war between the barons of Outremer and the Holy Roman Emperor, the King of Cyprus supported the barons and freed himself of Imperial overlordship -- but only at the end of the long struggle. When the civil war began, Henry was still a child and a vulnerable pawn.
In this scene, eight-year-old Henry has just been crowned king and, exhausted, he is retiring for bed when a harbinger of the conflict to come breaks in on his happy world.
Henry hastened to break off another piece of marzipan, while his nurse went into the bedchamber to pour the water into a glazed bowl and lay out his washcloth and the boar-hair toothbrush. The knock at the door startled him, and he said, “Come in!” without thinking. Henry was in his own palace and had not learned fear. With all his nobles, bishops and foreign diplomats at the banquet, however, he hadn’t expected anyone to disturb him.
The door opened and a strange man entered. Although he was dressed like a high nobleman in velvet robes with wide bands of embroidery, he was slight of stature, with sharp features, receding hairline, and a smile that made Henry’s skin creep.
“Sir!” The nurse, coming from the bedchamber, exclaimed, astonished by the intrusion of a stranger on the king when he was almost ready for bed.
“Go away, woman!” The man dismissed her irritably. “I am Sir Amaury Barlais, and I bring a letter to the king from his mother, Queen Alice of Champagne.”
At the mention of his mother, Henry’s fear receded and he eagerly held out his hands. “Oh, that’s wonderful! Give it to me!”
Barlais did not comply, but staring at the Greek serving woman ordered a second time. “Leave us, woman! I come directly from the Queen Mother!”
The nurse looked in alarm at her charge, at the intruder, and then back to Henry for guidance.
“She’s my nurse, why can’t she stay?” Henry asked Barlais.
Barlais started, and then with a smile conceded. “You’re right, my lord. Why not? But I am ever so thirsty and I’m sure you must be too after all that marzipan.” He glanced at the diminished marzipan crown. “Would you be so kind as to fetch us wine, woman?”
The nurse was of humble birth and she knew her place. She did not speak very much French, her language with Henry being her native Greek. She did not have any interest in politics and did not know the names of most of Henry’s vassals. Her world revolved around keeping Henry happy and healthy, making sure he ate, washed and said his prayers. She did not know who Sir Amaury Barlais was, nor whether it was credible that he had a letter from the Queen Mother. It seemed odd, however, that he came now as if he had been lurking in wait for Lady Alys to leave the chamber. Her maternal instincts screamed that this man meant Henry harm, but what was a Greek peasant woman supposed to say to a Frankish lord when he asked for wine?
She bobbed a curtsey and darted out the door. Outside she started running down the corridor. Her mind was fixed on one thing: she had to fetch Lady Alys immediately. Henry was in danger, even if the man had not been armed—or didn’t appear to be. He might, she realized in horror, have a dagger hidden somewhere in the skirts or sleeves of his fine robes. Or he might have poison. Or maybe he had come to kidnap Henry, and hold him for ransom? She had heard tell that the old king, Henry’s father, had been seized by pirates when he was a little boy and taken to the land of the Armenians.
Henry’s nanny was not an old woman, but her life of luxury in the royal palace with a child king who loved sweets had made her fat. She was not used to running, and she was soon out of breath. Even as she gasped for breath, the thought of Henry alone with that man frightened her forward. She burst into the treasury, babbling in Greek, rendered incomprehensible by her breathlessness.
“Good heavens!” Lady Alys exclaimed, shocked and alarmed to have someone burst into the treasury when she was alone there. If it had been an armed man, she would have been utterly helpless to defend the royal treasure. As it was, the sight of the nurse set off other alarms. The woman was bright red, panting, sweating and wailing in Greek, “Come quick, come quick! Man with Henry! Bad man! Hurry! Hurry!”
Lady Alys barely took the time to close the lock on the chest before she followed the nanny out the door. She took a step before remembering to return and turn the key in the door of the treasury. She replaced the key on the ring tied to her belt, and the keys jingled and clacked as she hastened down the hall. Although the king’s apartments were only on the far side of the interior courtyard, it seemed to take forever for the two women to reach the royal suite. The nanny was so out of breath she could not keep up with Lady Alys, and the wife of the baillie burst into the king’s apartment alone exclaiming, “My lord king! Sir!”
The room was empty.
Lady Alys stood stalk still inside the door, her eyes scanning the room before her. The marzipan subtlety stood on the table, the broken crown still held up by the various animals of the king’s menagerie. Nothing seemed amiss, and there was not a soul in the room. She looked toward the adjoining bedchamber, and her heart missed a beat. The bed covers had been torn off and tossed on the floor. She moved cautiously forward. “Henry?”
The covers shrugged and a sob reached her ears. Alys ran to the bed and pulled back the sheets to find King Henry curled up with his hands over his face.
“Henry? What’s happened? What’s wrong?”
Henry came into her arms at once and he turned his tear-covered face into her breast, but he didn’t say anything articulate. Lady Alys folded her arms around her eight-year-old king and held him as his nanny hobbled breathlessly into the room and sat on the bed beside her.
“What’s happened, pet?” The nanny asked in Greek, stroking Henry’s shoulder.
“Sir Amaury,” Henry gasped out at last.
“Which Sir Amaury?” Lady Alys asked.
“Barlais,” Henry answered between sobs, and Lady Alys stiffened at once. “He—he said—he had—a letter—from my mother!” Lady Alys was holding her breath, remembering all the rumors from years ago of Barlais’ affair with the Queen Mother. If he had gotten to her…. If he had managed to sweet-talk her….
“But—it wasn’t even for me!” Henry broke down into miserable sobs again, and Lady Alys held him closer, while his nanny clucked and cooed to him sympathetically. Why the boy should care this much about the worthless bitch who had borne him, Lady Alys would never know. The Queen Mother had never taken much interest in him, and six months ago she’d abandoned him with hardly a farewell to marry Bohemond of Antioch.
Henry suddenly drew back so he could look her in the face, his own face red, puffy, and wet from crying. “It was a letter from my mother naming Barlais as my baillie!” Henry wailed. “He says he’s—he’s in charge now—and I have to do whatever he says! I don’t like him, Lady Alys!” Henry declared with the simplicity of childhood. “I don’t like him. I don’t want to do what he says! I want Lord Philip to be my baillie like he’s always been!”
Lady Alys pulled Henry back into her arms and stroked his back. “That’s what Lord Philip wants too, Henry. We will have to look into this.”
Henry had pulled away again to speak to her, his eyes fixed on hers and a frown furrowing his forehead. “But Barlais says my mother is my regent and she appoints my baillie and he had a paper to prove it. He had a letter with my mother’s seal and he showed it to me. It named him my baillie!”
“We’ll see about that, Henry. It’s true your mother is your regent, but she named Lord Philip your baillie. The entire High Court took an oath to obey him until you came of age. You may have been crowned today, but you haven’t come of age yet. I’m quite sure the High Court will have something to say about this.”
For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.