FOR THE THRONE
Saladin invaded almost immediately, sending three massive armies to put the fear of Allah into the wayward Franks. A small force from the southeastern deserts moved right away to besiege Reynald’s fortress at Kerak, while a much larger host crossed the Sinai to join them. The third army hailed from Damascus and moved down from the northeast, besieging Safed along the way.
King Baldwin called up all of the realm’s levies in response to the threat, though his forces still appeared to be outnumbered. One major reason for this soon became clear: a missive from Raymond of Tiberias arrived, declaring that he would be unable to answer the royal call to arms, as he was already dealing with problems of his own. His armies were embroiled in an assault upon Masyaf, the neighboring stronghold of the dreaded Hashishin, and could be of no help in any military matters farther south.
What this conveyed to me was that since his counsel to avoid provoking the Saracens had been ignored, Tiberias had decided to leave the rest of the kingdom to face the wrath of Salah ad-Din alone. In-game he did seem to perpetually have his levies raised, though interestingly he never managed to increase the size of his holdings by much.
Fortunately for me, Sibylla’s personal levies were already in the field to suppress a small revolt in Ascalon, so I was able to retain control over them. The king was thus only able to raise the levies of Jaffa-Ascalon’s barons and bishops. Fearing that even our combined forces would be unable to cope with Saladin’s vast host, I went to the military menu to look for mercenaries. Sadly, there were next to none available. The two companies that were listed had already seen recent action, probably with the Byzantines, and were badly mauled. Luckily, mercenaries are not the only extra troops available to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. It’s a good thing Baldwin was such a devout king, because he had plenty of piety stored up to recruit the services of the Templars and Hospitallers. Each order brought a body of troops larger than Baldwin’s initial army, so Jerusalem’s forces were more than tripled by their arrival.
Therefore it was left to the combined armies of Jerusalem, Jaffa-Ascalon and the knightly orders to save Reynald de Chatillon from his well-deserved fate. I had half a mind to abandon the old fool to Saladin’s vengeance, except I knew I would want the support of his lands down the line should Sibylla become queen, and I knew it would be much, much harder to pry them from Saladin’s clutches than from Reynald’s.
Thus my armies went forth to defend the honor of the throne of Jerusalem, not to save a bloated, impetuous vassal who was more trouble than he was worth.
Rather than sending Sibylla’s modest contingent into battle by itself, I decided to wait and see what the king’s much larger host would do and then follow it to serve as reinforcements. Baldwin’s army moved south, not towards the embattled garrison at Kerak, but towards the Sinai to head off Saladin’s encroaching army. The Saracens were laying siege to one of Sibylla’s holdings at Darum, but rather than raise the siege, Baldwin made a feint towards Balian’s fortress at Beersheba. I followed suit, and sure enough the Saracen army assumed we were marching to lift the siege of Kerak and broke off the siege of Darum to pursue us.
It was at the Battle of Beersheba that I was first able to see Richard the Lionhearted in action. As was appropriate, I had appointed him to command the center of Jaffa-Ascalon's contingent, and he did not disappoint. The two armies were fairly evenly matched until Richard arrived with the reinforcements and swiftly turned the tide of the battle. The Saracens were decimated and the combined Jerusalem/Jaffa-Ascalon forces were able to move on to Kerak unmolested.
In the meantime, the large Damascene army had moved south from Safed and joined in the siege. I was somewhat concerned because the numbers of the united Saracen host were still larger than the crusaders’ army, but my fears proved unfounded.
With no apparent concern for their own safety, Richard and a small band of his knights broke through the Saracen hosts and rode right up to the gates of Kerak, shouting at the defenders to sally forth and join the battle, for God’s sake. The sight of the dashing Richard, his familiar crimson tabard soaked a deeper shade of red by the blood of his enemies, rallied Reynald’s embattled garrison enough for them to join the fighting at a pivotal moment and weaken the resolve of their attackers.
The tables had turned, and the battle began to move in favor of the Christians. Their enemy still outnumbered them, but the added weight of all the Templars' and Hospitallers' heavy cavalry made a big difference against Saladin's thousands of badly-armored peasant levies.
Yet more than anything, credit for the final victory really lies with Richard’s brilliant command of the right flank. He smashed through the Saracen left in a matter of minutes and then joined Balian of Ibelin in pressuring the enemy center. That eventually collapsed as well, leaving the Saracen right flank to be cut to pieces without any support.
Jerusalem’s victory was complete, but Saladin still had yet more troops arriving from the more distant reaches of his empire, and the crusaders’ numbers were dwindling every day with no hope of reinforcement. Therefore when Saladin proposed a white peace I accepted it gladly. I suppose I could have fought on, but he had more resources and manpower. Saladin would have won in the end and Jerusalem would likely have had to give up some territory. Better to quit while we were ahead.
So King Baldwin rode out to Saladin to discuss the terms of peace, and the two spoke privately for almost an hour. The Saracens then withdrew without comment, while the crusaders returned to the benighted citadel of Kerak.
Saladin had agreed to withdraw on the premise that Reynald be sorely punished for his many crimes. So in a rare display of ire, the leper king berated Reynald for his foolhardiness, slapping him across the face repeatedly and forcing him to grovel in the dirt for his life. After this public humiliation the simpering Reynald was permitted to retain his holdings, but Baldwin was so exhausted from the exertion of that encounter that he collapsed and became bed-ridden for several months.
The war with Saladin had been a very narrow thing. Although the enemy ultimately withdrew from the field, it was no victory. Everyone knew that Jerusalem had come painfully close to utter defeat. And having Richard follow Baldwin around to bail him out in every battle that could follow didn’t seem to be the best long-term strategy.
It was time for Sibylla to be a little bit more assertive.
I’m sure Sibylla probably felt a twinge of guilt at plotting to depose her dear younger brother, but the matter was easy enough to rationalize as being for the good of the kingdom. After all, Baldwin likely did not have long to live, and Jerusalem had already come perilously close to the brink of destruction one time too many.
However, inviting co-conspirators to the plot was not going to be so easy this time around. Only upper tier nobles were available for recruitment, and many of those were still loyal to the dying leper king or at least wished him no harm. Anyone interested in sponsoring a regime change was going to require more than Sibylla’s good will to motivate them. Sibylla’s mother Agnes de Courtenay was out. Not only was she landless, but she was Baldwin’s mother as well and would not betray him. Richard was complicit of course, and made for an easy invitation. (Although truthfully I played this event both before and after the patch and he was only available to invite to the plot once.) Raymond of Tiberias remained disinterested and contemptuous, and Balian of Ibelin was still loyal to King Baldwin. None of the foreign princes were interested in becoming a party to their guile -- not Richard’s father, the English King Henry II, not the Prince of Antioch, and certainly not the distant Byzantine Emperor. Without the support of additional conspirators the plot percentage remained too low to enact it.
There was only one choice left, one other landholder who would be willing to support the plot. I had to make a deal with the devil.
Etienette de Milly accepted the plan quite readily on behalf of her slighted husband, Reynald de Chatillon. The two of them were quite eager for retribution against the Leper King for the degradation he had heaped upon Reynald after the Battle of Kerak. So while the ambitious Princess had gained their support, these dangerous allies now presented a different sort of problem: Sibylla would be in their debt, which would not bode well for the future.
Isn't it interesting how decisions made for the sake of pragmatism can be so ironic?
In the meantime, with Reynald’s lands coupled with Sibylla’s, nearly half the kingdom was laid against the current regime. The percentage was high enough to risk it, and I accepted the mission to send King Baldwin a letter of rebellion. (Why the game mechanism is to send a challenging letter rather than launching a palace coup I don’t know.) Lacking both the political support and the personal strength to oppose the conspiracy, King Baldwin acquiesced to their demands from his sickbed. He was to retain all of his personal lands and holdings for the duration of his life, but would surrender the crown to his elder sister.
Baldwin’s declining health was cited as the official reason for the regime change, although the other vassals certainly maintained their suspicions. Regardless, they all respectfully attended the joint coronation, all except for Raymond of Tiberias that is, who once again referenced his ongoing war against the Hashishin as an excuse for his failure to attend. King Baldwin was also absent, both as a matter of protocol and one of practicality. It would not do to have an abdicated sovereign present for the coronation of his successor, and he was far too ill to attend even if he wished.
Sibylla was the picture of demurity as Patriarch Heraclius laid the crown upon her brow. Whether or not she harbored any reservations about the manner in which she was to succeed her brother remained a mystery, as her expression was totally inscrutable. However, when it was Richard’s turn to play at coronation, his behavior was unsurprisingly typical. He plucked the crown from the Patriarch’s frail grasp as if it were just another bauble and placed it on his own head with a self-satisfied grin. All in attendance lauded their new King-Consort and Queen with the appropriate pomp and plaudits, though an uneasy air remained despite the magnificence of the occasion.
And that’s how in the year 1182, Richard and Sibylla obtained the throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.