Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into 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.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Peculiar Custom of Electing Kings - The Kingdom of Jerusalem 1099 - 1197.

Medieval Manuscript Illustration of the Election of Baldwin V of Jerusalem

When we think of kings, we generally don't think of elections. Monarchies are usually hereditary, after all, and changes in dynasty most often came about through bloodshed -- assassinations, invasions, and the like. The concept of a king being "elected" is almost unthinkable, at least in the high and late Middle Ages. Yet in one kingdom it was the norm: namely in the Kingdom of Jerusalem between 1099 and 1197.

Not, of course, that these were democratic elections in the sense of "one-man,one-vote" (let alone one-man or one-woman, one vote), but the kings of Jerusalem were for the first hundred years elected by their peers, i.e. the nobles, secular and sacred, of the kingdom.

It all started with the First Crusade. To the bewilderment of the Byzantine Emperor and the various Sultans, Emirs and Caliphs in the East, the First Crusade did not have a single, all-powerful leader. It was led by a motley band of noblemen with a variety of titles from duke on down, and not one of them was recognized as more senior or regal than the rest. Raymond de Toulouse was perhaps the wealthiest of the band, and Hugh de Vermandois was perhaps the best connected as the brother of the French king, but, by the time the remnants of the crusaders had reached Jerusalem, military prowess and piety had come to mean as much a bloodlines and money to the participants. 

Medieval Manuscript Illustration showing Godfrey de Bouillon leading the First Crusade
In any case, after capturing Jerusalem in July 1099, the leaders of the First Crusader were confronted with a situation not unfamiliar today: post-conflict reconstruction. It seems, that the leaders of the crusade had set out on their almost impossible mission without a clear plan for what they would do with Jerusalem and environs if they succeeded.

The fact was, the vast majority of the crusaders (or armed pilgrims as they were called at the time) had come to liberate the Holy Land and the sites of Christ's passion -- but not to live there. Mission accomplished, they wanted to return home to their families, their lands, their trades. (Historians now estimate that no more than one sixth of the crusaders remained in the Holy Land after completing their pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher.) 

It was obvious to the leaders of the crusade, however, that if they all went home, the Holy Land would immediately be reoccupied by the vastly more powerful and populous Muslim states surrounding it. They agreed that a Latin Christian state had to be established that would protect the Holy Land, and being the products of feudalism they really couldn't imagine any other form of government beyond a monarchy. So they "elected" from among their number the man they considered most capable and suitable to rule the new kingdom they had created .

To his credit, the man they elected, Godfrey de Bouillon, refused "to wear a crown of gold where Christ had worn a crown of thorns," and he officially only carried the title "Advocate of the Holy Sepulcher." He died, however, within a year, and the remaining crusaders faced the same dilemma as before: they needed a ruler. 

Admittedly, the franchise was again very limited (the few Latin nobles and prelates still in the Holy Land at the time), but importantly it was not uncontested. The patriarch of Jerusalem at the time seemed to think the Holy City should be held by the Church (namely him) rather than a secular lord. Furthermore, by the right of primogeniture Godfrey's successor should have been his elder brother Eustace. The latter, however, was back in France and it seemed risky to send for him. So the men with anything to say in the kingdom, elected, Godfrey's younger Baldwin. The latter, by the way, had no scruples about wearing a "crown of gold" and allowed himself to be crowned with such in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

When Baldwin I too died without children in 1118, the secular and sacred leaders again gathered to decide on who should be his successor.  By now, as you can see, a precedent had been set and solidified. Thereafter, at the death of each king, the tenants-in-chief (both sacred and secular) met to decide who would succeed. While they always showed a strong bias in favor of a close relative of the previous monarch, they were by no means a mere "rubber stamp." Debates could be heated, and conditions could be set -- such as divorcing an unworthy wife, for example. Furthermore, this council of leading churchmen and barons was by now institutionalized as the "High Court" of Jerusalem. It had acquired a number of other significant constitutional functions above and beyond determining the next king after the death of the last -- but that is beyond the scope of this essay.

The importance of the High Court and the notion of consent by the subjects (well, the tenants-in-chief) can best be illustrated by the case of Queen Sibylla. When Baldwin V died still a child, his closest relatives were his mother, a daughter of King Amalric I by his first wife, and his aunt Isabella, the daughter of King Amalric by his second wife. Since Sibylla was the elder sister, she appeared the most logical candidate for successor. Unfortunately she was married to a wholly unsuitable man, who had managed to alienate virtually the entire nobility of the kingdom. The High Court was divided between a minority that was prepared to crown Sibylla on the condition that she divorce her husband and replace him with someone more suitable, and a majority that inclined to crowning her half-sister Isabella. Sibylla opted to ignore both. She had herself crowned with the support of the minority, and then broke her promise to them by not divorcing the unpopular and despised Guy de Lusignan but crowning him as her consort instead.

Queen Sibylla and Guy de Lusignan in the Hollywood Film "The Kingdom of Heaven"
The High Court, effectively circumvented, considered crowning Isabella as a rival (and tearing the country apart), but her husband was unwilling to play along and so the bulk of the nobles capitulated and accepted Sibylla as their queen. End of the elected kingship, you say. 

No, not quite.

Sibylla's claim to the throne remained flawed by the lack of HIgh Court consent, but because she had the best claim she was tolerated. Not so her husband. As soon as Sibylla died, the High Court took its revenge. Isabella (long the preferred candidate of the High Court) was pressured into deposing her ineffective husband (who had betrayed the High Court earlier), and marry a man of the High Court's choosing (Conrad de Montferrat). Henceforth the nobles of the kingdom viewed Conrad (who was not anointed) as the rightful king of Jerusalem rather than Guy (who was anointed).

Admittedly, at the time all this was happening the Kingdom of Jerusalem had ceased to exist. Guy had lost the entire kingdom in a disastrous battle in 1187, and all that remained was the city of Tyre (controlled by said Conrad) and a siege army around the city of Acre (led by Guy). Acre itself was in the hands of some of Saladin's elite troops, while Saladin himself commanded the army surrounding Guy siege force; in short, the besiegers were themselves besieged and would have been wiped out if they hadn't periodically received reinforcements and supplies by sea. 

The situation was soonfurther complicated by the arrival of the Third Crusade, led by Richard I of England, who staunchly backed his vassal Guy against the claims of Conrad, and Philip II, who backed his distant relative Conrad.  Unfortunately for Conrad, Philip soon packed up and went home, and he was left with the Lionheart.

Yet even the famous Lionheart could not force or persuade the High Court of Jerusalem to forfeit their right to elect their ruler. In a famous and telling episode, Richard called together the leaders of the entire crusade but most especially those men from the former Kingdom of Jerusalem that would remain behind in the Holy Land to defend it after the crusaders like himself had returned home. He asked them who should be king, and -- allegedly to Richard's surprise -- they unanimously chose Conrad. At which point, the Lionheart capitulated and recognized Conrad.

Nor was that the end. Shortly afterwards, Conrad was assassinated. Now, according to Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi (a pro-Richard source) "the people...elected [Henri de Champagne] their prince and lord." This language is particularly opaque and cannot possibly mean what we understand today by "the people" or "elect," but it is clear that Henri de Champagne was the choice of someone other than Richard of England. On the contrary, Richard advised Henri against marrying Isabella! Henri, however, ignored his uncle, married the heiress, and became de facto (though not de jure) king of Jerusalem for the next five years.

When Henri died in a freak accident, it was back to the old rule. The High Court of Jerusalem selected Isabella's husband for her because her consort would be the next king. They chose Aimery de Lusignan, who was duly "elected" King of Jerusalem in 1197.

Sibylla's usurpation of the throne is a key event in:

A divided kingdom,

                          a united enemy,

                                             and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Defender of Jerusalem

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For more fascinating customs from the past continue on this blog-hop!

New Release!

Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, Volume 2 
Edited by Debra Brown and Sue Millard

An anthology of essays from the second year of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, this book transports the reader across the centuries from prehistoric to twentieth century Britain. Nearly fifty different authors share the stories, incidents, and insights discovered while doing research for their own historical novels.

From medieval law and literature to Tudor queens and courtiers, from Stuart royals and rebels to Regency soldiers and social calls, experience the panorama of Britain’s yesteryear. Explore the history behind the fiction, and discover the true tales surrounding Britain’s castles, customs, and kings.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

The Leper King's Vision: An Excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"

“Look,” Daniel coaxed. “Doesn’t it make even me look comely?” He held the silver mask over his own face and confronted the King, who was lying in bed, propped upon pillows.

“You’re always comely, Daniel,” Baldwin replied, with a weary smile that only made his deformed face more hideous.

“Your grace, your hands and feet are covered with bandages and clothes; why shouldn’t we cover your face as well? If you don’t like this particular mask, we can commission another one. You can choose whatever visage you like—you could even change it from day to day!” Daniel suggested eagerly.

Baldwin sighed. “The only face I want is the one I had before ….”

“We asked the silversmith to try to reproduce it,” Daniel admitted, looking down at the mask in his hand, “but he wasn’t skilled enough. Or maybe he just couldn’t remember what you looked like before ….”

“I’ll wear it if you can’t stand the sight of me anymore,” Baldwin offered, “but otherwise, now that I’ve turned over the affairs of state to my brother-in-law, why do I need to hide?”

“It’s not for me,” Daniel hastened to assure him. “It’s just that your sister thought …” Daniel looked nervously down at the mask again. The Countess of Jaffa had charged him with making Baldwin wear this. She’d told him she couldn’t bear the sight of her brother’s face another day. Daniel knew she would blame him for failing to convince the King to wear the mask, and Princess Sibylla could be hell on earth when she was displeased.

Baldwin caught his breath at the mention of his sister, and after a moment he repeated slowly and deliberately, “My sister.” It wasn’t a question by the time it came out of his mouth, because now that it was out in the open, it was so obvious. His sister was somehow ever present—yet never really at hand. His mother had repeatedly assured him she was here, but she had never come close enough for him to see her with his dimming eyes.

“My sister wants me to wear the mask,” he concluded.

Daniel nodded vigorously. “She—she says she loves you too much to see you like this.”

“Yes,” Baldwin said stoically. “Too much.”

Sibylla had always been attracted to beauty, he reminded himself, striving for the thousandth time to find an excuse for his sister. But the words rang falsely even in his own head. If she loved him so much, then surely she would see beyond his deformed face to his heart and soul? Surely she would care more about what he was feeling than what she was seeing? Like Ibrahim.

Baldwin suddenly realized he had not seen or heard from Ibrahim in days. The thought distracted him from his sister’s pseudo-love. “Daniel, where is Ibrahim? He hasn’t been with me for days. He hasn’t fallen ill, has he? He didn’t catch the fever, did he?” Even as he spoke, Baldwin was seized with fear that Ibrahim might be dead. Old people, like children, were the most vulnerable to fevers, and Baldwin could distinctly remember Ibrahim at his bedside during the worst stage of his fever, when he had been half mad and had thrashed around in the bed trying to escape his worthless body. Ibrahim had come and calmed him, cooing to him in Arabic.

Daniel looked up in alarm. This was the first day in a month that they had been alone together. It was the first time Daniel had seen the King lucid and completely free of fever. “Didn’t …” Daniel started.

“Didn’t what?” Baldwin asked.

“Didn’t the Countess of Jaffa tell you?”

“He’s dead?” Baldwin asked, rearing up from his pillows in alarm, his grief so great that it gave him strength.

Daniel shook his head vigorously.

Baldwin sank back onto the pillows, exhausted from even this little rush of adrenalin. “Christ be praised for that. But where is he, then? Is he ill?”

“No,” Daniel admitted, “no, the Countess of Jaffa complained that he only got in the way and underfoot—”

Baldwin was sitting bolt upright again. “She didn’t—she couldn’t have said that!” he protested, yet his tone and expression belied his words. It was as if he were hearing these very words again in his memory, as if he had recorded them in his subconscious and they were echoing now in his conscious mind.

Daniel could not meet his eye, because he was ashamed he had not done more to defend Ibrahim at the time. He muttered, “She said he’s too old to serve, and sent him away.”

“What?” Baldwin protested in shame and outrage. “Sent him away? Without my consent! And where? Where is he now?” Baldwin demanded.

“I don’t know, your grace,” Daniel mumbled shamefacedly.

“But how could you just let him go?” Baldwin wanted to know. Reproach was in the King’s words, making Daniel realize that his lord knew how jealous he had been of the love the King showed the old Muslim slave.

“I—I was too concerned about you at the time, your grace,” Daniel defended himself lamely. “We all thought you were about to die.”

“All the more reason to ensure poor Ibrahim was not thrown out! He has no family like you have, Daniel. He has no one in the whole world. No where to go. You must find him. You must go—” Baldwin had been about to order Daniel to go to the hospice of the Hospital—but then he realized Ibrahim would never seek solace in a Christian institution, and there was no mosque or Muslim community in Jerusalem either.

“I think he might have gone to Ibelin,” Daniel ventured. “He said Lord Balian had promised to take him in ….”

Baldwin leveled reproachful eyes on Daniel. “Ibelin is fifty miles away! How is poor Ibrahim supposed to get there? He’s at least seventy years old!”

Daniel looked down at his feet.

“Daniel, I hold you responsible for Ibrahim’s welfare. You must send a man to Ibelin at once to see if Ibrahim is safely there. If Balian has given him a home, then we will let him be—but in the name of the Virgin Mary, if he is not there, I will not let you rest until we have found him and brought him back to me.”

“Yes, your grace,” Daniel muttered.

“Leave me,” Baldwin ordered, lying back on his pillows and closing his eyes.

“But, your grace—” Daniel protested, knowing that without Ibrahim there was no one but himself to help the King do anything, now that he had lost the use of all his limbs and was almost blind.

“Wait outside the door. I’ll call if I need you,” Baldwin insisted, without opening his eyes or stirring until he heard the door close behind Daniel.

When he was alone, Baldwin tried to sort out his thoughts.

It had seemed so natural to give up the burden of ruling when he was ill. It had been such a relief. “Yes, Guy can be Regent,” he had told his mother—anything but the smothering sense of a duty he could not fulfill. He had just wanted to rest, to die in peace, without the guilty conscience of leaving the Kingdom ungoverned.

“You’ll retain Jerusalem, of course,” his mother had promised. “And an annual income of ten thousand pieces of gold.”

What did he want with an income of ten thousand gold pieces when he was dead? And of course he would retain Jerusalem, because he would be buried beside his father and uncle in the Holy Sepulcher.

Only he wasn’t dead yet. He drew a deep breath. The room smelled slightly foul—from unchanged sheets, a dirty garderobe, and rotting bandages. Ibrahim had never left his bandages lying around, nor let the garderobe get dirty, either. Daniel—Daniel was strong still and devoted to him, but he hated cleaning the garderobe and, not unnaturally, he hated touching the used bandages, too.

How could it have taken him this long to register that Ibrahim was missing? Baldwin reproached himself. How long had it been? A week? Two? Even three? Christ, forgive me! He squirmed uneasily in his guilt, and then went still with a paralyzing sense of fear.

He was alone. Utterly alone. Everyone who truly loved him had been chased away. The Archbishop of Tyre, after being passed over for the post of Patriarch of Jerusalem to make way for his mother’s lover, had resigned as Chancellor in offended outrage. Tante Marie had been turned into a bitter enemy because they’d taken her little girl away from her—to please his mother. Balian had been alienated first by the insult to his brother, and then by the loss of his stepdaughter. And now poor, harmless Ibrahim—thrown out in his old age without so much as a pension.

Baldwin felt cold, but he could not pull up the covers on his own. He lay on the bed feeling the chill gnawing at his rotting bones, but he did not cry out for Daniel, because he felt God’s wrath in the cold around him.

“You have created this cold by your own faithlessness,” God said in his conscience. “You have replaced those who loved you with those who love only the power they derive from you. You have turned your back on love and basked in its counterfeit.”

Baldwin felt the urge to cry, but he had long since lost the ability to shed tears. Instead he began to writhe in silent agony. With a clarity and vividness that only existed in his mind, he remembered how Ibrahim had come to put him to bed the day the doctor suggested he had leprosy; the other servants were all in hiding or had run away altogether, but Ibrahim had smiled at him and tucked him into to bed. Next he remembered the day Balian had come into his life and put his arm around his shoulders—risking his own health and life to give comfort to a frightened child. He remembered, too, the day his father died and he had been so terrified of becoming king, but Balian had knelt and offered him fealty, telling him he could be king without the use of his hands. “You will be king by the force of your mind and the courage of your heart,” Balian had said. Even when the leprosy had attacked his face, Balian had helped carry him—with Ibrahim. They loved him. They would not have asked that he hide behind a mask.

Baldwin was racked with dry sobs as he thought next of Tante Marie. She had kissed his hands the day she returned to court, making his mother and sister gasp because they had not dared. She had brought little Isabella to him, while Sibylla insisted she could not risk her son’s life in his presence. And how had he rewarded Tante Marie? By taking Isabella away from her.

Baldwin’s writhing was becoming more violent, and his breathing came in gasps. How could he have done that? How could he have let his mother and Sibylla talk him into such an act of cruelty? What were Tante Marie and Balian going to do to or with Isabella that was so dangerous to him? Nothing! They loved him.

Maybe it was good to marry Isabella to Humphrey before she was old enough to be driven by sexual desire like Sibylla, but why hadn’t he ordered Humphrey to go to live with Balian and Maria Zoë, rather than tear poor little Isabella away from the people she loved and who loved her? How could he destroy a family after suffering so much from the destruction of his own?

The voices of his mother and sister seemed to be everywhere around him—chattering, nagging, vowing their love to him while cooing poisoned advice and begging him to reward their lovers. Guy, Heraclius, Guy, Heraclius. He had made their men the most powerful men in the Kingdom: the head of the State and the Church respectively. And where were they now? Probably in bed with their lovers, while he lay here alone in the growing stench of unchanged bandages and linens and a dirty garderobe. He was starting to shiver and his teeth began to chatter—but he still did not call to Daniel, because he had brought this upon himself. God was right to punish him.

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Beauty and the Beast: A Excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"

“Humphrey! You’re 15! You’re grown up!  You don’t have to put up with this anymore!” Isabella argued furiously with her future husband.

“If I don’t do what Oultrejourdain says, he’ll break my face in!” Humphrey countered, just as angrily.

“He doesn’t have the right to do that! You’re his peer!” Isabella insisted indignantly. “You’re the Lord of Toron!”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Humphrey wanted to know. “It’s all very well for you to talk about my rights,” Humphrey sneered, “he’s never laid his fists on you!”

“Because he wouldn’t dare! Don’t you see, Humphrey? You have to make him respect you!”

“Why the hell should he respect me when he’s so much stronger than I am?  I’m not even a knight!”

“The King has never been knighted either,” Isabella pointed out. “But people respect him, don’t they? Even Oultrejourdain respects him. And you can’t say he’s stronger than Oultrejourdain either. They say he can’t even walk anymore.”

“But he’s the King,” Humphrey pointed out in exasperation.

“And you are the Lord of Toron! If you don’t remind Oultrejourdain of that and insist that he treat you according to your rank, we’ll never get out of here!”

Humphrey stared at her. “What are you talking about?”

“Do you want to stay here forever?” Isabella demanded. “You are Lord of Toron! We should be living in Toron as lord and lady, not imprisoned here!”

“Oultrejourdain says I’m not ready,” Humphrey conceded, red with shame.

“Because he likes having your income! He’s never going to willingly give you your inheritance. You have to make him give it to you!”

“You make it sound so easy!” Humphrey protested. “If you think it’s so easy, you tell him!”

“Alright, I will!” Isabella decided, and with clenched fists she turned and started striding toward the Great Chamber where Oultrajourdain was consulting his household officials.

Humphrey ran after her. “Isabella! Don’t!”

“Why not?”

“We don’t know what he’ll do to you!”

Isabella could see real fear in Humphrey’s flushed face and she knew he was genuinely afraid for her. She appreciated that, but she was convinced that sometimes you had to be brave. She had had enough of being a prisoner. She was not prepared to wait for her freedom any longer. “I don’t care what he does to me,” she told Humphrey stubbornly. “I’m going to confront him!”

“Isabella! I’ll tell him about Dawit!” Humphrey used the threat that had worked before.
But Isabella was beyond being blackmailed. Her step-father had reminded her that she was not a helpless child, she was a Princess of Jerusalem and she had more right to the throne than did Sibylla, the daughter of a bad woman. It was because people were afraid of her, that she was kept imprisoned here.

Isabella swept into the Great Chamber with Humphrey in her wake, but the adults paid no attention to her. Humphrey seized the chance to try to pull her back, whispering loudly for her to come with him.  Isabella broke free of his clasp angrily and burst out in a loud, demanding voice. “I want to speak to you, my lord of Oultrejourdain!”

“I’m busy.” He retorted without even looking up from the document he was reading. “Later.”

“No, now!”

Humphrey gasped and the men of the household snorted.

“You’ll do as you’re told!” Oultrajourdain growled, looking up and frowning threateningly.

Isabella stood her ground. “I’m Isabella of Jerusalem and you can’t order me around!”

Oultrajourdain burst out laughing and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest in bemusement.  The fact that a chit of a girl, barely eleven years old, was willing to stand up to him like this amused him. Of course, he could have brushed her aside with a single back-handed flick of his wrist. He could have picked her up with one hand, and dumped her in the deepest and vilest of his dungeons, and left her there without food and water until she begged his forgiveness, or he could simply hit her until she was broken and streaming tears. But what was the point of demonstrating his power over someone so weak? He used his strength to keep strong men from challenging him and to make weak men stronger, but he saw no point in employing brute force against girl who would never be strong and never be a threat to him — at least not physically.

“So Madame de Jerusalem,” Oultrajourdain asked with an amused smirk, “just what is so important that we have to discuss it now?”

“My husband — my future husband — turned 15 last month.” Isabella told him, starting to feel afraid now that she was face to face with Oultrejourdain and he was staring at her so intently. His eyes seemed to communicate a mixture of malice and amusement.

“Did he?” Oultrajourdain asked back, feigning surprise. Then he turned on Humphrey and asked as if he could not believe it. “Is that true, boy? Did you turn fifteen?” Before Humphrey could answer, Oultrejourdain continued in a tone of utter contempt, “I never would have guessed. You act more like five than fifteen!”

“But it’s true!” Isabella insisted. “He’s fifteen and so he is an adult! He is now Lord of Toron.”

“A lord who needs an eleven year old girl to speak for him!” Oultrajourdain countered sharply, shaking his head in a mixture of disbelief and scorn. “When he’s man enough to argue his own case, Isabella, I’ll hear him out. For now, go back to your nursery and take the little boy with you!”

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Return from Hell: An Excerpt from "The Defender of Jerusalem"

Balian had escaped from the great hall where the drinking had started in earnest and cautiously followed the vaulted passage that ran north from the chapel to the underground postern. Part of it was curiosity, for he was interested in the defenses of every castle he visited, but mostly he was seeking solitude so he could think.  Isabella had been sent to bed long ago, before the entertainment became too crude, but the touch of her lips on Balian’s cheek as she said good night still lingered like a reproach. She knew he planned to depart without her on the morn, and although she had said she understood, it was hard to leave her here after three days “enjoying” the Lady of Oultrajourdain’s hospitality.

Furthermore, previous visits had also been before the Red Sea raids, and Balian knew that many of the men sitting at the tables and sharing their meals with Isabella were mercenaries capable of all the atrocities attributed to the raiders.  Like Oultrejourdain, Balian and Maria Zoё had their informers. Greek traders with strong ties to Alexandria had provided them with some very gruesome details of both the raids — and the fate of the survivors. The reports had all spoken of “mercenaries” and sailors from the gutters of the Levant — led by a blond knight of great height and strength with a nose that hung straight from his forehead like the nosepiece of a helmet.

Height and strength were always attributed to an opponent that was difficult to subdue, it increased the prowess of the victors in the end, and most Franks were considered “blond” by their Arab foes, but the detail about the nose was what had led Balian to believe Henri was the leader of the raid. Barry and Henri both had a nose like this, but it was most pronounced in Henri’s case. Barry’s face was otherwise harmonious and attractive so the dominant nose didn’t jump out at you as much; Henri’s hunger for land, fame and fortune had carved out his cheeks and left his nose more prominent than ever.

Out of the darkness that face emerged to confront Balian. It was blackened, however, as if burned, and encased in a Bedouin headdress. Balian caught his breath and stepped back, certain he was facing a ghost.

The ghost laughed. “Afraid of your own brother, are you?”

“Henri! Where have you come from?”

“Hell.” Came the simple answer.

The answer seemed to corroborate that this was his brother’s soul, but at the same time the image seemed far too substantial. Dust soiled and weighed down the hem of the Bedouin robes, and the smell of sweat — thick and masculine —oozed from his brother as he blocked the passageway. Surely ghosts wouldn’t smell.

“Chatillon tells me you went voluntarily,” Balian ventured.

His brother laughed harshly. “Oh, that I did, and the Heaven part came before the Hell. Ever make love to harem slaves? I assure you, it’s like nothing else in the world!” He laughed again. “And they have wine in Aden, Balian, like the nectar of lotus that drove Ulysses’ men mad. You can’t imagine what it’s like to lick that sweet wine from the thighs of dancing girls. And the treasure, Balian, the treasure was more than we could carry. The men started paying their whores with ruby rings and ivory bracelets. I could have bought Ibelin ten times over with what I had in my sea chest alone.”

“Ibelin is not for sale,” Balian replied, certain now that this was no apparition but his brother very much in the flesh, who had somehow managed to disguise himself as a Bedouin and escape the vengeance of the Egyptian authorities.

“No? I’m not so sure. Even our saintly, little leper might have been tempted by the treasure I could have lain before him. It was surely enough to build a wall all around the Kingdom of Jerusalem — or pay a thousand knights from the West.”

“He might have been tempted,” Balian agreed, “if you had managed to keep it and bring it here.”

“They trapped us, Balian,” the tone of voice changed from triumph to bitterness. “We were betrayed! I killed a dozen of the Pisan bastards — just to set an example, but it was too late. We had to abandon all we had — the ships, the treasure, the girls — and headed inland.  But the Bedouins led us into a ravine with no escape and then tried to disappear among the rocks. I chased after them while the rest of the fools fought off our pursuers. The rock crevices were so sharp, they cut like the edge of a knife.” He opened his hands and looked down at the scars on them as if amazed by the jagged, scabbed lines that now deformed them.

Balian waited, torn between shock and sympathy.

“I finally brought one of the bastards down, cut his throat and took his robes. I dressed his corpse in my armor and kicked it over the edge of the cliff. It rolled its way back into the ravine to land at the feet of the Egyptian troops, the face so smashed and ravaged by the rock edges that they never even suspected the deception. When they looked up, I waved back to them, clenched my fist over my head and shouted “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” The idiots answered with similar shouts and never even tried to come after me.”

“I’m surprised the Bedouins didn’t get you,” Balian observed, still trying to sort out his feelings; he was glad Henri was alive, and yet ashamed of what he’d done.

Henri just laughed. “So am I. Of course, I still had some gold in my purse that helped with some of them. The others I had to kill.”

“You have a lot to confess, it would seem,” Balian concluded. After all, it was not his place to judge his brother; that was for God to do.

“Don’t preach to me, Balian. You haven’t been where I was.”

“No, and I hope I never am.”

“Barry always said you weren’t ambitious enough.”

“I’m a Baron of Jerusalem and an honorable man. That’s good enough for me.”

“Yes, I know. But not for me. Did Chatillon tell you about the little girl he’s going to give me?”

“Yes, with a fief worth more than Ibelin, I know. You’re welcome to it, Henri, because you are right: I would not have done what you have done to get it. May God have mercy on your soul.”

“That sounds rather like you are washing your hands of me.”

“Does it?”

“Yes.” Something in Henri’s tone sounded distressed, as if some last, flickering remnant of decency or maybe just affection had flared up in him.  Or maybe he was just suddenly afraid of losing Balian.

Balian heard it, but it was too faint to sway him. “You are beyond my help, Henri. Go collect your earthly reward from Chatillon, and see that you enjoy it. The Day of Judgment will not be far behind, and I do not want to be in your shoes.” He turned and walked back in the direction of the chapel.

Henri called after him. “Nor I in yours, Balian! Nor I in yours! For all you goodness will not help you when Salah-ad-Din comes!”

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Friday, September 4, 2015

The Forgotten Bride: A Excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem"

“Does your lady always keep you waiting this long?” Aimery asked, drumming his fingers impatiently on the linen-covered high table.

“Actually,” Balian remarked, leaning back in his chair and turning the goblet between his fingers, “never. She’s a very punctual woman, but we didn’t give her much warning.”

“Dinner is ready,” Aimery retorted, indicating the ushers and pages and cooks already in position. The tables behind the screens were groaning under the burden of platters piled high with roasted geese, stuffed hens, and grilled goat, not to mention the beans, peas, carrots, and lentils in various sauces, and the bread piled high in baskets. The meal was ready, and the squires had already had a healthy share of it in the kitchens before taking up their stations behind their lords, ready to pour wine and water and serve. But the lady of the house was absent.

“Have some more wine,” Balian replied, signaling Dawit forward to pour for their guest.

Even as he spoke, however, Maria Zoë emerged from the screens and stood at the far end of the hall facing them. Since she had been in the bedchamber, to get to the screens meant she’d actually gone down into the ward and taken the outside steps, which at first puzzled Balian. Then he realized she was waiting for someone else. A moment later a lovely young lady stepped out of the screens, and Maria Zoë looped her arm through the other lady’s elbow as they started forward together.

“Who’s that with your wife?” Aimery asked, staring.

Your wife,” Balian answered, amused, although he too had had to look twice before he recognized his niece.

“That’s what I thought; I just wanted to be sure before I did or said something inappropriate,” Lusignan answered, admitting after a pause, “I wouldn’t have recognized her in a different setting.”

Balian couldn’t resist commenting, “Well, whose fault is that? You were always welcome to visit more often.”

Aimery just grunted in reply and touched his face with his hand, feeling the four-day beard. Without taking his eyes off his approaching bride, he asked urgently under his breath, “How do I look?”

Balian laughed. “You look like you’ve been campaigning for a fortnight, and smell like you haven’t bathed in a month.”

Aimery frowned and leveled an annoyed look at Balian. “You don’t exactly smell like a bed of roses, either!”

Balian only had time to laugh before he pushed back his chair and welcomed his lady to the dais. After kissing her on both cheeks, he turned to Lusignan and announced with relish, “My niece, Eschiva de Ramla and Mirabel,” as the latter fell into a deep curtsy before the Constable, her husband.

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