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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
Intro
  • JSB217118

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    The history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem between the Third Crusade and the Fall of Acre is often characterized as a terminal existence, the Kingdom’s chances of survival having essentially ended at Hatin or at the latest with Richard the Lionheart. Clinging pathetically to the coast and in constant need of outside assistance.

    Into this world was born one of the most pitiable figures of the 13th century. Isabelle the Second of Jerusalem became Queen of Jerusalem practically at the moment of birth, and an orphan as well. At fourteen she was wed to the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick the Second in an attempt to bribe him into aiding the Crusader States. Her husband then promptly got into a dispute with her father over the rulership of Jerusalem. She herself was confined in Palermo and all chroniclers agree she was utterly miserable. She suffered one miscarriage shortly after her marriage and at age fifteen or sixteen she died giving birth to Prince Conrad of Germany, who promptly became King of Jeruselum, though he never set foot in the Kingdom. Her bloodline ended when her grandson Conradin was executed by Charles of Anjou after he attempted to claim the Kingdom of Sicily. With him died both the legitimate male line of the House of Hohenstaufen, but also the bloodline of Isabella the second, ending what little influence she had upon the world.

    It’s quite a sad story. Let’s see if things turn out the same in this AAR. There haven’t been many AAR’s with a female protagonist, the last one I can think of was Waltzing Matilda. I feel a little strange writing one. But I have had good games in the past with Isabella and I think this one can make an interesting story. In addition, I have written women before for creative writing projects where both teachers and fellow students said I have done it well. We’ll have to see what you guys think.

    I intend to at a minimum finish out Isabelle’s life. After that, if I feel like it, I will start a new thread for the next ruler. Depending on reader interest I am willing to keep this thing going until 1453, or a suitable endpoint just before or just after.

    Major shoutouts to @JabberJock14, his “Before Plantagenant” is what inspired me to write an AAR and to @WhiteHawk, whose AAR, “And did those feet” inspired this specific setting.

    I would like to also thank the History of the Crusades Podcast, for providing me for most of the historical background for this story. Another source of historical information was the r/AskHistorians forum on Reddit, which provided excellent answers on life in the Crusader States.

    A more qualified thanks must go to the website Defenders of Jerusalem. The site’s author seems to be heavily biased both in favor of the Latins and in favor of specific characters. However, I found some of her historical conclusions to appear valid, and more importantly make for good fiction. I haven’t read her actual books so I can’t tell you if they are any good, but the biographies on her website really helped me sketch out the outlines of certain characters, and for that, she has my sincere thanks.

    I’m playing using the Historical Immersion Project. I can and will bestow luck and the AI will try to go for the historical outcome, which leads to some...interesting things. However, even the Historical Immersion project contains some inaccuracies and as such I will try to merge what the game presents with actual history. Even characters recalling events that took place before the start of the game should not be taken as real history, though I encourage you to use the above sources to explore the real history of the Crusades and the world they created.

    This is my fist AAR. I have spent a while preparing for it. I will try to update weekly, but I can't promise anything. The thread will be dead when I make a post saying it is, so don't loose hope just because the story hasn't been updated in a while. Any and all constructive criticism is welcome.
     
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    Chapter 2: January 1212
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    Chapter 2
    January 1212

    Maria Komnenos held the sovereignty of the Kingdom asleep in her arms. Literally. Is she threatening me? Or was it some sort of power move. Jean couldn’t imagine a woman would kill her own great-grandchild. But then she was a Greek. Amongst the Greek nobility kinslaying was said to be second nature. Andronikous Komnenos murdered his cousin the Emperor and seduced two of his nieces. The Empress Irene had blinded her own son in the very room he was born. So he did not put anything beyond this creature, no matter how old and frail she looked.
    20200425100042_1.jpg


    “Your Grace. I was most pleased to receive your invitation”


    She smiled at him. Like any old grandmother. “My Lord of Jerusalem, I am pleased you agreed to spend time with me. I just hope you weren’t taken by surprise.”



    “Your messenger was...unorthodox.” He turned to look at the old Queen’s hooded lady in waiting.


    Maria spoke to the girl next. “You weren’t seen were you child?”


    “No your grace.”


    “Good. People would cast unworthy aspersions on your honor if they saw you in the regent’s chambers.”


    “I’m willing to go through any sort of peril on your command, your grace.”


    The old queen laughed. “Such a brave girl. I’m not sure if your father would be proud or furious to learn of your antics.”


    She smiled. “Knowing my father, both.”


    Jean felt uneasy. Like he was in a group with two old comrades who only talked about occurrences he had not been at. They’re only women, he reminded himself.


    “In any case, there was no peril. Lord Jean treated me with all the courtesy and grace a knight of his caliber could bestow upon a maiden.”


    “That is good to hear. You may leave us now lady Grenier.” Greinier, as in the Count of Sidon? The girl quickly but gracefully curtsied and spun out the door, closing it on her way out.


    The Queen’s smile grew slyer. “That was lady Raymonde Grenier, and I’ll assume you now know who her father is.”
    Raymonde Gerenier.jpg


    Jean tried to hide his feelings. “The Count of Sidon did mention bringing his maiden daughter to court.”

    “That he did. She takes after her father in many things and is quite a sociable girl.” Does she want me to wed her? Both the Counts of Beirut and Sidon had maiden daughters, and Jean had been quite offended when neither of them had offered them to him, the most powerful man in the Kingdom. He wasn’t interested in marrying either but he was still peeved that Iblin and Greinnier considered themselves too good for him.


    “I was surprised you chose to meet me here”


    “Is it so odd to want the sovereign of the realm present where the future of the Kingdom is being decided?”


    “You value yourself quite highly.”


    She chuckled softly. “I am but the old ruin of a once impressive monument. Sidon is not the only noble I have influence over. Many nobles respect me as a former Queen, as the widow of a hero, and of course, my son is the Count of Beirut.”

    Jean scowled.


    The old Queen tensed, Jean saw the look in her eyes, like she wanted to hit something. Before his hand could move to his sword hilt she spoke.


    “Of course I know of your quarrels with my son. And I imagine you know I have his best interests at heart. And you know I am a Roman, and the political dealings of my husband, of which no doubt all sorts of filthy lies have been spread throughout half of Christendom. And in spite of it all, you came. Was it to hear my witty conversation. Or mayhaps your search for a new bride has gotten truly desperate.”


    Jean bristled. “You will mind your tongue woman.”


    “Ah, a proud man, or else a blunt man. I would advise you to use a gentler tone to remind me of courtesy. But forgive me, for my own discourtesies, you aren’t the only one who has been in mourning these past few months.” She seemed so sad and weary. Jean remembered that his wife had spoken fondly of her grandmother.


    “I understand. These are trying times for all of us.”


    “Still I must ask, why are you here?”


    Jean sighed. “I am loath to admit it but I have had some trouble imposing my authority over the High Court and the Great Lords. I know your son knows this for it is he who causes these difficulties. When you summoned me I knew I could not refuse.”


    “You hoped I would offer my son’s submission or a deal of some sort?”
    Maria Komnenos offered him a drink, which he declined. He’d had a sip before coming. A light drink calmed the nerves before bed, battle or bargaining table, and in the case of all three drinking to excess would have very negative effects. Also, he didn’t trust the Greek woman not to poison him.


    “A man of temperance. More could stand to learn from your example. I see the way you look at me, your grace. I know most Franks have a low opinion of us Romans but surely even you don’t believe I would ever harm my own great-grandchild?”


    “Then why do you hold her before me so?”


    “Is it now a crime for an old woman to hold her great-granddaughter? My son is an expert in such things, surely he would have told me of it. And besides, I do not think you are in a position to talk, seeing as you hold two of my granddaughters against their wills.”


    “They are my wards, treated with all the care and gentleness befitting ladies of their age and station.”


    “And yet you have guards posted on their doors. And I can’t imagine Melesinde or Sybille took it well, being dragged away from their home in the dead of night not a fortnight after watching their sister the Queen die in agony. Imagine how much I might worry about them.”


    “They are my sisters by law. I would never bring harm to them.”


    She smirked. “You know my family history. Androikous never hesitated about inflicting any harm upon the child, his cousin, his Bassilious, whom he had sworn to protect, or upon the honor of two of his nieces.”


    Jean had not ordered the girls to be taken, or indeed any of the actions his late Uncle had taken to ensure his hold over the Kingdom. It hadn’t stopped people from blaming him for it though.

    He had gone to see the girls shortly after his arrival. He had tried to console them, though it didn’t seem to work that well. Sybille had just cried while Melesinde had spat and said she’d rather die than be taken by any Brienne.” She hadn’t just been referring to his nephew Garunthier. He had thought them stupid children at the time. And yet what other intentions would they ascribe to a man whose soldiers kidnapped them and kept them imprisoned? Vipers were villainous, but so were false knights who carried off young maidens against their will, in the name of lust, power or both. I am a knight of Champaign, he reminded himself. If he let his ambition overcome his virtue, then he would lose everything. God would punish sin with special harshness in this most holy of lands.


    20200425102355_1.jpg

    Melesinde de Lusingion Age 12.jpg


    “You are a man of ambition Jean, as was my late husband. Yet he also had a good heart. I think you have one as well.” She smiled. She’s just some old grandmother.


    “So the price for your sons’ cooperation is a simple trading of wards?” One that my conscience is demanding I make anyway.


    She tsked and shook her head. “These things are not so simple. But yes, this is one part of it. King Hughes of Cyprus was quite concerned to hear about his half-sister’s abduction. And seeing how their half-sister Phillipa is about to be sailed to France to wed the Count of Deux it seemed like a good time to bear them a visit, accompanied of course by his Queen, my granddaughter Alix and a sizable retinue of knights.
    King Hughes of Cyprus cropped.jpg

    Queen Alix of Cyprus.jpg

    20200425102408_1.jpg


    ‘Hughes gathers troops against me!” Had this all been some sort of elaborate ruse to deceive him?


    “Calm down. If I really wanted you undone I would not be telling you this. The girls are to be ready to be presented to their halfsister the Queen and their step brother the King. They will spend some time with them, and their other half-sister Phillipa, before departing for Cyrpus. After what they’ve seen, they need to be with family.”


    “This Kingdom is a nest of vipers”, he muttered to himself under his breath.


    “Take it from a Roman, it’s your nest of vipers now unless you would like to get on the boat back to France. Far more importantly it is her nest of vipers”, she held up little Isabelle. “You swore a vow to protect one Queen, and now you will serve another.”


    “So what exactly is it you want from me? Besides the return of the Princesses.”


    “For a start, I want your daughter, my great-granddaughter to take up the rule of Jerusalem in her own right when she comes of age of course.”


    “That would be, quite odd.” He kept his expression neutral.


    “You're talking to a Komnenos, a woman who suggested a marriage between a stepbrother and a step-sister. Surely this is not the oddest thing you have seen since coming to the east.”


    “I suppose not. But I fail to see what you would gain from this.”


    “Ever since the death of Baldwin the Fifth our Kingdom has been ruled by the foreign-born husbands of our Queens. My son is committed to the rights of the Kingdom’s nobility. Even he knows that a consort from amongst the local families is impractical, we need foreign support. Still, Isabelle will be raised here, amongst the nobility of Outaremier. She can act as a check on any husband’s promotion of foreigners. As for myself, well I have more personal reasons.”


    “Such as?”


    “I wish the best for my great-granddaughter. And I believe her interests will be best served by keeping control over her own lands and incomes, especially if she is wed to a foreign monarch.”


    A long silence followed, which the Queen broke. She truly looked her age. As if all the world’s cares had broken against her, like a rock by a rough sea. “I have more to say, but I feel it would be inappropriate for a meeting like this. For now, it is enough to know that I loved my daughter Isabelle and her daughter with all my heart and that they would love this child. I do not know your sentimental feelings but it makes no matter. She is the only thing that gives you power here and so you must wish the best for her. To do that you need me, deep down you know that, or else you would not have come. Ruling any kingdom, but especially this one requires a mix of silk and steel. You are smart enough to figure out how you and my son mutually complement each other, in both virtues and faults. Neither of you can hold this kingdom without the other and if you quarrel you will only weaken us further.”


    Jean knew of Iblin’s cowardice, as did almost everyone else. But did they all think of him as just some meathead? He would prove them wrong.


    “If I were to accept this alliance, what other terms would you ask for?”


    “You would have to retain my son in his office. Heed his council when prudent and respect the rights of the High Court. And if we were to regain lands, god willing maybe Jerusalem itself, I would expect some of the new lands would be given to my children and grandchildren. In exchange, you will have your choice of wedding either Raymonde or else my granddaughter, Cecile. My granddaughter is a good pious girl and Raymonde is, as you have seen, clever and brave. Both would make any man happy.”
    20200425110340_1.jpg


    Jean smiled finally he’d be the one with inscrutable motives. “I am tempted, but I must decline your offers of marriage. I have already made plans.”


    “Oh?”


    “Not just for myself, but for Isabelle as well.”


    “Well, now you’ve piqued my interest.”


    “I think some secrets are best kept. What I will say is that Isabelle will have a husband worthy of both her and her name. She is my only child and I wish my name to continue on.”


    “Is that so? Then it seems your ambitions align with the best interests of both your daughter and this kingdom. Now if you would go on.”


    “Of course. I accept all of your terms sans the marriages. Alas, I have no kin to offer in compensation. However, there are men amongst my company who I consider as close as brothers. A marriage to one of them would bind me to your cause.”


    “Both the Count of Sidon and my son are proud men. They will not give away their daughters to low borns.”


    “As I recall the House of Ibelin does not have the most illustrious of origins.”


    “That makes it even more important to marry up. Still, we may be able to provide some workaround.”


    “We are in agreement then?”


    “Indeed.” She passed the child to Jean. He took her up without much thought. But looking down at her made his heart rush. This was his child, his own flesh and blood. It was strange, for all the politicking he had done in her name Jean had not laid eyes upon his daughter before today. Her features were mostly his, plain. But she had her mother’s eyes. The child began to stir and let out a wail.
    Isabella age 1, choosing thirft.jpg


    “Forgive me, it seems I’m doing something wrong.”


    Maria Komnenos gave a gentle smile. “You're fine, she’s just hungry. Most new fathers are nervous, the ones that care anyway. It’s good that you are amongst their number.”


    The wet nurse was summoned and the little Queen handed off. It seemed like the best time to depart. Before he left though the old Queen offered him a drink, and this time he accepted.


    She gave the first toast. “To Queen Isabelle, long may she reign.”


    Jean went next. “To her grandmother, your daughter, and her mother my sweet Maria, may she honor them both.”
    Queen Isabella the first of Jeruslum.jpg

    Maria of Monferat.jpg


    They finished with one for Jerusalem. The wine tasted sweet like victory. The Dowager Queen said she thought much the same. Jean was finally halfway out the door when he decided he had to right a wrong. “I apologize to you, your grace. I believed many spurious tales about you. You are a strong woman, and wise too. The Kingdom is lucky to have you.”


    She laughed. “Not as strong or as wise as I once was. And you needn’t fret. I am what I am and people will think what they will.”


    “Would you….I didn’t have much chance to know my wife. I would appreciate it if one day you could tell me more about her.”


    “It would be my honor, my lord of Jerusalem.”
     
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    Chapter 3: March 1212
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    Chapter 3: The Count of Beirut
    March 1212

    It was a beautiful spring day when the party approached Castle Melfi. The castle itself was quite formidable. Located in the scenic and defensible hills of southern Italy, it was the gateway between Campania and Apulia. Arrayed outside was an army that seemed to comprise all of Sicily. Young King Friederich Houenstaufen had decided to take advantage of the usurper Otto Welf’s excommunication to retake his birthright, the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, joined in the war by the French King Phillipe Augustus.
    Otto and Friedirich's war.jpg


    Phillipe vs Otto.jpg


    20200508125701_1.jpg

    Above the walls flew the banners of the Count of Melfi and his wife, the Countess of Leece, and above them the banner of Sicily, side by side with the Imperial Regalia of the German Empire. Sicily hasn’t been this united since the days of the de Hautevilles.

    It was a surprise to be greeted by the King himself at the entrance to the castle. Ahorse with the Count of Melfi on his left, and his marshal, Count Pietro of Marisica on his right.


    King Friederich of Sicily cropped.jpg

    Count Pietro.jpg
    of

    Count Giacomo.jpg


    “My Lord of Ibelin you’ve come a long way from the Holy Land.”



    “Indeed I have your grace. And have farther still to go.”


    “Indeed?”


    “First to Rome, then on to France for my grand niece’s wedding.” Of course Jean left out the two messages he carried. The regent had made clear that he was to maintain the utmost of secrecy, and far more importantly to Jean, the High Court had approved his decision.


    “Ah yes, the sweet Princess Phillipa. The rider my wife sent ahead told us of the sweet Princess, though he neglected to mention her ravishing beauty.” He turned to her. “I do hope you enjoyed my sweet Queen’s company.”

    Queen Constance Cropped.jpg


    Phillipa’s cheeks were bright red. “Your wife was most gracious and kind. She and the Count showed us around, Palermo. You are blessed to have such a beautiful kingdom.”

    Ibelin had found the Queen standoffish, but maybe that was because her marriage to Frederick had reminded him too much of his own failed union. Constance of Aragon was almost twice as old as her husband and had been Queen of Hungary before remarrying to Frederick. Still, it could not be said she did not do her duty, for she had already born the king a son and heir, whom she doted on with the obsession of one who had already lost a child.

    20200508125737_1.jpg

    20200509014104_1.jpg



    And maybe having left everything behind not once, but twice, had allowed her to be a comfort to young Phillipa, nervous as she was about marrying so far from home.

    “You have good taste, Princess. Palermo is the jewel of Sicily. I spent time there when I was young. I would have loved to have made it my capital, as it was in the days of the Norman kings, but alas I am bound to honor the distribution of tittles that occurred in my minority.”
    Palermo is not the capital.jpg

    That was something the Count of Melfi, would no doubt be glad to hear.

    The king turned to his vassal. “I would hope the castle has food and drink enough to feast this party?”

    20200504171602_1.jpg


    “Of course your grace. Castle Melfi is able and honored to host such an important delegation. With that, they were led inside.


    He took a bath and got dressed for dinner. His servant, Khalida picked out his clothes for him. She did not have a beautiful face. Yet she was also curious, quick, and eager to please. Jean of Ibelin had kept many native bedwarmers over the years, most of them far more attractive than Khalida. But he had never had one who could keep up with his conversations. It was an altogether enthralling experience.

    He tried to kiss her but she pushed him away.

    “I’m sorry my Lord but if we are to share a bed again you must give me what you promised.”

    “Dear God Khalida this again?”

    “You promised. After your horrid wife died you swore to me that we’d be married.”

    He had been very drunk that night. Jean and his first wife had hated each other, but he’d still known her for so many years. The feelings her death brought about, he needed a drink to clear his head.

    “Khalida. I love you. But I am a lord. I must do my duty and wed for the benefit of my family.”

    “Oh don’t give me that. You’re letting your daughter be courted by the regent’s lowborn companions. ”

    Jean scowled at the memory. It had been the most odious of the terms his mother had agreed to with the regent. He had only agreed to it because he knew his sweet Cecile was too good to fall for any of them. Even Alphonse, who had proved to be a model knight. Sharing a hunt was one thing, giving your daughter to the man was quite another.

    “Even that was for the interests of my house.” The Kingdom needed stability, his mother had reminded him. This odious arrangement would keep the peace between himself and the regent

    “You’re the greatest lord of the realm. You shouldn’t have to take orders from your mother anymore.”

    “You go beyond your place. I make my own decisions.”

    “What good is it to be master of Jerusalem if you cannot marry who you want?”

    If I were master of Jerusalem I wouldn’t be here. You’re free to enjoy the feast. You should go on and make merry and forget about the conversation we’ve just had.

    “As you wish, my lord”, she spat the last word.



    At the dinner, Jean and Phillipa were seated to the King’s left, the Count and his family on the right. The meal commenced after the usual perfunctory gestures towards the valor of various lords and knights. The King spoke first to the Count of Melfi.

    “Your home has been a wonderful treat, just marvelous. It’s true what my tutors said, Castle Melfi is the most strategically located castle in the land. Yet they never told me of the wonderful hospitality of its lord.”

    “I am honored your grace, but the credit must go to my lady wife, the beautiful Countess Albina.” The count spoke in between attacking a chicken leg.

    “Ah yes my cousin, I have so many of those. It is always a pleasure to be amongst family.”

    The Countess was a thin woman with Sicilian features. She didn’t seem to notice, her husband’s compliments, busy as she was with her fidgeting children.

    Countess Albinia of Taranto.jpg


    Garuntheir of Briene, Jean's Nephew cropped.jpg


    Simon.jpg

    “Garunthier stop hitting your brother.”

    “But he stole my knight!”

    “He’s three. He’s too young to know any better.”

    The Count looked like he was ready to hit someone.

    “It’s no bother. Really it’s my fault for insisting you bring a six-year-old to the table, but I just had to meet little lord Garunthier", said the King.

    The Countess finally understood that the King was paying her attention. “Little Garunthier”

    “Yes mama”

    “The King has need of you.”

    He looks so much like his mother.

    “Yes your gwace.”

    “Are you enjoying yourself.”

    “Yes your gwace. Even if my little brother is being a stupid thief.”

    The King laughed. “Thiefs truly are horrid. Why when I was little some of them even tried to steal my crown.”

    “No. That’s horrible.” The little boy said dramatically.

    The King nodded. “Indeed it is. They suffered as they must, and I hope none will do anything again so treacherous again. You know what kings do to traitors don’t you?’

    “They chop off their heads!” The boy exclaimed with a little too much eagerness.

    His mother had a pale look on her face. Had she really not told her son of her heritage? Of how his father died?

    “Your grace, we are both loyal. Our forces ride beside yours to fight for your claim to the Holy Roman Empire", said the Count of Melfi.

    “Oh, I was never questioning your loyalty or that of the Countess. I was just reminding the little Baron of what a king does to…”

    The king was interrupted by the cry of a small shrill voice. “Mommy’s not a Countess, she’s a princess!”

    The Countess tittered nervously, while the Count looked like he wanted to strangle little Simon.

    Frederick though seemed to find the whole thing amusing. “Well, there goes subtlety. My lady of Hauteville it has been a pleasure to be a guest at your husband’s castle. You must know, I had no involvement in your first husband’s death. How could I, I was a child. I just hope that any biterness between us is a thing of the past. And that you and yours will take up an honored place at court.”
    20200504171655_1.jpg

    “I remain loyal to you my King, and to my husband Giacomo, my one true love.” She sounded convincing, but Jean felt he could see her eyes downcast. The King didn’t seem to notice. Or care.

    “Marvelous, simply marvelous. I hear it that you yourself are quite the scholar. You are always welcome to any book in my collection. Why I might even send one to you if you ask nicely.”

    “It would be an honor to receive any gift from you, your grace.”

    For the rest of the banquet, Jean couldn’t help but notice that every time the table was presented with a new dish, the Countess would sample both food and drink before giving it over to her children. Her husband teased her incessantly about her gluttony, but Jean suspected something else was at play.

    He himself stayed temperate. The chancellor could drink eat and wench as well as the next man, but he was acting as the Queen’s ambassador. Though he cared not a whit for her proud fool of a father, indeed he secretly hoped the Holy Father could be swayed to confirm him as regent, in spite of the pact he had made, the babe was still his grandniece and it behooved him to do his best in her service.

    As the dinner dragged on and the men grew more drunk and rowdy, the Countess of Leece announced that it was time for her children to be put to bed and that she would do so herself. Her husband brooked no objection to this breach of social protocol, nor did the King. The Princess also decided to retire for the night, or more accurately, Jean commanded that she be sent to her chambers, with Khadiva accompanying her.

    The king bid them farewell, wishing Phillipa a pleasant journey and a happy marriage, and promising that the boys would be raised high in the realm as loyal vassals of the new Kaiser of a united Empire and Sicily, words no doubt also meant for his parents

    Count Giacomo waited until his wife had cleared the room, before scoping the nearest servant girl up in his arms, depositing her in his lap, and kissing her, to the uproarious laughter of the attendant lords and Knights.

    “Do...Do you have any hunting birds?” The King said in between spasms of laughter.

    The Count lifted his face up from between the red-faced, squealing girl’s breasts. “Your grace we have some of the finest in Italy.”

    ‘Then alas my count of Melfi, it appears young Heinrich will have to continue this war in my name. For it appears I have died and gone to heaven.”

    A loud cheer went up from the benches. Soon almost every man amongst them had a wench in arms.

    “You wouldn’t join in the fun my Count of Beirut?”

    Jean was tempted, but the recent fight with Khalida weighed on him. What kind of lord let the word of an ugly sixteen-year-old low bornLevantine girl, affect him so. And thinking that brought her words back to him. If I had to choose, I would choose her.

    “I wish I could your grace. Alas, a lover’s quarrel weighs on me.”

    He expected the king to call him an idiot, or something worse. Instead, he nodded his head sideways, as by this point in the night the young King had consumed copious amounts of wine. “I understand you. I too once had a woman I loved above all others. But alas fate is a cruel mistress. I was torn up about it for weeks. I still feel for her. We all move on in our own due time.”

    “Aww, my poor King. Here let me give you a kiss for comfort”, said the very drunk servant girl who was wrapped around her monarch’s arms.

    “I must be in heaven. For here I have an angel.”

    “Your Grace, I assure you, that one is a real devil where it counts”, the Count said with the slurred speech of a drunkard.

    “Indeed, then alas let me take her to my chambers and see if I might exorcise whatever accursed spirit ails this fairest of creatures.” The King leaped from his seat and carried the girl off to his chambers. No doubt whatever exorcism he would attempt would not be the kind the Church approved of.



    The Count arose, relatively, early in the morning. He quickly got dressed and slipped out of his chambers.

    At the main hall, he found who he was looking for. The Countess had awakened early to supervise whatever servants weren’t nursing hangovers, abed with the guests, or both, in tidying up the place.

    The two exchanged pleasantries.

    “I was wondering my lady if you were not aware that your former brother in law remains as regent of Jerulsum?”

    “I assumed as much my Count of Beirut, after all, it is his child who is now Queen.” Jean felt half tempted to launch into a lecture on the ancient rights of the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s nobility, those rights included choosing the regent, but decided against it.

    “I admit, though we have served on the council together, I know little of what Jean of Brienne is like as a man.”

    “And you would want me to tell you? In exchange for what, exactly?”

    “Simple courtesy to a guest? If that doesn’t suit, a guarantee that I will protect your son’s interests in the Holy Land.”

    “My son’s interests in the Holy Land? My Lord, my husband and I left for Italy the year of our marriage. Jean war courteous and chivalrous to me throughout my family’s stay in France. My husband left him to manage the barony. After he died, he managed it in the name of my son. Beyond that, we had no connection. He made no effort to back me or my son while he was regent. So far as I am concerned his interests and mine are severed. My husband may not be the kindest or most faithful man, but he keeps me and my sons safer than any knight on the far side of the Mediterranean ever could.”

    The magnanimous Countess.jpg

    That was a good thing to hear. “I wish you and your husband good luck in this war.”

    “And I wish you good luck on your mission ahead, Count Jean of Beirut.”

    He wished he could talk to her more. A woman as knowledgeable as she was wasted on a man like Giacomo. But alas such conversation was in neither his interest nor that of Jerusalem. Intelectual conversation with the King on the other hand, that would serve both his interests as Count of Beirut and that of the larger realm.

    By midday the army departed, followed up the road to Rome by Princess Philipa and her party. The King and some of the Lords rode up ahead to hawk, the King’s favorite sport.

    The King would go on and on about the various breeds of falcons and the nobles would nod along and pretend to understand what he was talking about. But the King’s mind moved a mile a minute. As soon as they spied ruins the King stopped the whole hunting party to wax poetic about the glory of the ancients. “He almost seems to wish we still lived in such pagan times, the marshall muttered, thankfully where the King couldn’t hear him.

    The Count didn’t know much about Falcons, but he knew a lot about Rome and art and architecture in general. They wandered around the ruins, Jean pointing out various features that caught his eye to the Emperor. Jean was particularly drawn to the mosaics and weathered paintings that clung to the cracked marble of the old buildings.

    “I’ll have to have someone build a replica of this for myself in Beirut.”

    “You and me both”, said the King.

    Jean decided to stay with a small retinue and sketch out the ruins while the rest of the party moved up the road to Rome. Khalida silently drew and committed art to memory. What a wife she would be.

    The party parted at a fork in the road. The King would continue on to his war, and Phillipa’s traveling party would go on to Rome, and then to France.

    “Give my regards to Pope Innocent. He may be much more of a stickler for religious doctrine than you or I, but he is a strong Prince nonetheless and did his best to protect me when I was young. The enemies of the faith tremble before a man like him.” Jean had heard stories of what Innocent did to “enemies of the faith.” Most of those enemies had been Christians, the Cathars of Languedoc, and his mother’s people, the Greeks of Constantinople.

    20200509020907_1.jpg

    “I will give the Pope your regards.”

    “Oh and Count”, the King called after him.

    “Yes your Grace.”

    “I have it on good word that the Pope will soon give Jeruslum everything it might require.”

    Is what I think he’s saying really true?

    “Thank you, your Grace. I will pray that your words prove true and that you are victorious in this war.”

    It occurred to Jean that if things went the right way, the Emperor of the Romans might, for the first time in centuries, be held by a man resembling the Romans of old.
     

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    Chapter 4: April 1212
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    Chapter 4: The Regent and the Latin Princess.
    April 1212


    Jaffa was, even more, a ruin than Constantinople, and it hadn’t been sacked. It was a stinking pigsty compared to Palermo. Fate, as her first real friend in Constantinople had informed her, was a cruel thing. Had a few things turned out differently she would have stayed in Sicily forever, with, in her eyes, the most dashing King in Christendom. But alas she seemed to be the one piece of property her father would sell at below market value. Unless he values me so little…
    “Agnes”
    “Yes,” she was grateful for Raymonnde’s interruption. The Latin Princess did not make friends easily, and so this Grienier girl had seen fit to treat her as a charity case. Agnes would have resented it if she wasn’t so desperate to find something good in this wretched place.

    “You look lovely.”

    Princess Anges of the Latin Empire..jpg


    Agnes rolled her eyes. “Don’t lie to me.” Raymonde had beautiful curly Brunet hair, while Agnes's was straw blond. Her build was athletic, whilst Agnes was just scrawny thin.
    “It’s true. You are far more beautiful than you give yourself credit for.”
    “You know I’m left-handed right?”
    “So?”
    “They say the left hand is the hand of the devil.”
    “And my father sometimes wonders if he fathered me on a she-demon. What of it? You’re just nervous.”
    “And don’t I have a right to be?”
    “I just don’t see the point in focusing on it. I’m nervous too, but also excited, my mother once told me that was how it is for all brides.”
    “But you’ve actually met your intended, this Alphonse. You know you have reason to love him, whereas I hardly know anything about my husband at all.”
    Raymonde raised a brunette eyebrow. “Is that not the norm in marriage?”
    Agnes sighed “Usually you know him at least by reputation. All I know is that he’s some tourney champion from Champaign that King Phillipe selected to wed the previous Queen of Jerusalem.”
    Her father hadn’t even intended to wed her to him at first. Emperor Henri had sent a message to Jean of Brienne asking him to find a husband for his only daughter. By the time the message had reached the regent, Queen Maria was dead and he had need of a new wife. The Emperor might have turned this upstart knight down, except he had just received word that his opponent, the Despot of Epirus had wed the sister of the King of Cyprus. Rumors swirled that Hughes intended to expand his kingdom, with Venetian aid, into the Aegean islands controlled by the new Emperor. The Queen of Jerusalem was Hughes’s niece by marriage and her regent might have felt compelled to support him in a war against the Emperor.

    That was what her father had told her anyway. For her part, Anges though some people at court just wanted to be rid of her, and had seized on the opportunity. But if that was the case then maybe her father should have pushed harder in other directions.

    The Latin Empire Epirus War.jpg


    20200509103152_1.jpg

    "You know I spent time in Palermo, while my father was on Crusade.”

    “Did you? I’ve always heard it was a grand place.”
    “Oh yes, it was. You have no idea. All the books, the culture, the art from all over the world it was like I was in heaven. Why I even learned how to read Greek.”
    Raymonde laughed. “I always heard the King loved to Hawk. That always sounded like fun.”
    “That he does.” She smiled, and thought back to all the fun times she’d shared with Frederick, his joyful laugh, his smile, the proud way he held himself.
    “Did you know the king well?”
    “Very well. I once thought to marry him, he even reciprocated my feelings, but alas he wasn’t willing to do the honorable thing.
    “Oh?”
    “The King asked me to be his mistress.” When said like that the whole thing sounded so common.
    “And what did you say?”
    “I told him that the entrance to my heart lay through a chapel gate, and if he were the man I thought he was, he would cancel the betrothal the Pope made for him and wed me instead.” For a moment she had thought he would choose her.
    “You did the right thing.”
    “I thought so at the time. But now? Yes, people would have called me a whore, but truthfully I never cared much for the company of others. And I would still be kept in some comfort, probably greater comfort than I will have here if truth be told. And Frederick would not have any problems with my more peculiar interests. At the very least I sometimes feel we should have shared a night together. Just to spite them all, you know What harm would that have done?”
    Raymonde shook her head. “What harm would it have done to anything besides your immortal soul?”
    “Well, there’s that”, Anges said abashedly.
    “And what if he got you with child? You might be willing to take the risk out of l, but could you really bring a child into the world with the taint of bastardy? Knowing every day what his mother was being called behind his back. And that’s assuming the Queen had no problem with you, and that the king never tires of you, both of which I highly doubt. And would you really be content to just sit in some castle and wait for him to pay you company? No, Anges, you made the right decision. The daughter of an Empress should not lower herself to being a mere mistress, not even a king’s mistress.”
    She felt so foolish, and angry. “You are one to talk of lowering yourself, your husband’s the son of a blacksmith from what I hear.”
    “Actually, my husband is the distant progeny of one of King Arthur’s lesser-known knights. The family may have lost its worldly possessions, but the noble blood still flows in their veins.” Raymonde said, failing to contain the mischievous grin on her face
    “You don’t expect anyone to believe that, do you?”
    Raymonde rolled her eyes. “Your right, surely we are the first to forge a line of descent like this, just as surely as John the Baptists had twenty thumbs. People will believe it so long as my husband, and myself, are strong enough to make them believe it. And I intend for us to have that power.”
    “But still, you are wedding a man below your station, and one much older than you at that. And from what I hear the man your father wanted you to wed was your own age. Why go through all the trouble.” That was the diplomatic way to say why are you so eager to marry a homely low born old enough to be your father?

    “Alphonse is strong and brave and has a good heart and has led a life full of adventure, ones I would hope to share in. My other suitor was Baudoin d’Ibelin who likes to torture cats, but will run away if any real man challenges him. I’d pity any woman married to him, even Jezebel. Even if you weren’t the type to fall in love with a man like Alphonse, his low status is actually beneficial for me. He has no name to speak of, so our children will be of my house. He knows little of the politics of the Kingdom’s nobility, so I will navigate it for them. We’ll be true partners. And it will be my choice. Few women get to make such choices.”

    20200516150610_1.jpg

    Agnes could not help but feel envy. Yet she also saw truth in Raymonde’s words. “So you’re saying a husband of lower rank can be a tool of a woman’s ambition?” Raymonde laughed. “Well I wouldn’t call my Alphonse a tool, but yes, if one had ambitions it could actually be to your advantage to marry down.”
    Suddenly Agnes did not feel so bad about her upcoming nuptials. “Raymonde, you are wise for someone our age. I truly envy you.”
    Raymonde waved her hand as if to brush the compliment away. “My father thinks me a stubborn fool, perhaps he is right, but I’ve had a wise mentor, I’ll introduce you to her sometime.”

    That got Anges to thinking about Princess Anna of France. She had known her only briefly, during her short stay at her father’s court in Constantinople. But she’s been someone who Anges could trust, much like Raymonde was now. The French Princess has lived a turbulent life and was a reminder of how the forces of the universe could throw a mortal about like a ship in a storm.


    Princess Anna.jpg


    The door opened. “Ladies, your husbands to be will receive you, as well as your father, lady Raymonde, and your Uncle, Lady Agnes.”

    “Thank you Humbert”, Raymonde said to the manservant, as they left the room.
    Her Uncle was sweltering in the Levant sun.

    20200516143305_1.jpg

    “It’s a lovely day is it not niece”, he said with a sardonic smile and a twinkle in his eye.
    “Yes it is, Uncle Eustache, for now you will be well and truly rid of me.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek.
    “Aww, don’t you say that little girl.” He embraced her. She felt tears welter in her eyes. Should she beg him to stay? He might if she really begged him, her Uncle was that kind of a soul. But no. He was, in his own way, an ambitious man, and she could not ask him to put that aside to live in a Kingdom with almost no prestige.
    “Daughter”, the count of Sidon said curtly, as he put his arm around hers.
    “Father”, she answered in turn.
    Agnes thought she heard him mutter “Worse than your mother.”
    Agnes likewise took her Uncle’s arm. “Your father is so proud of you.” If he were so proud of me he would be here to give me away himself.
    It was unfair to think of her uncle as a step down though. During her girlhood been her playmate and source of comfort in hard times. If anyone was more worthy to give her away than her father, it was him.
    “Keep your cheer niece, you are blessed. Jean of Brienne is said to be a great knight. And he is the Queen’s father. You’ll be a Queen in all but name. I’m sure he’ll do his best to make you happy.”
    “A Queen in all but name, but not in name” Yet. And it should be Empress.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    It seemed as if half the Kingdom had packed into Jaffa for the regent’s wedding. Inns were filled to bursting and the regions bewildering arrays of faiths and peoples mixed and intermingled with the usual mix of hostility and comity.
    Jean had thought they were there to honor him, before the Spymaster had told him that most of his subjects could care less than about who the Frankish regent wed. They just wanted an excuse to forget their travails.

    It would be just like the Count of Sidon to rain on his parade like this. Jaffa had been a step down from Jean’s plans. He had originally intended to wed Agnes de Flanders in Acre, as he had Maria of Montferrat. It would send a signal that the regent was back in control, even if he hadn’t actually gotten word from the Pope yet. But Count Balian had brought word concerning some complications.
    19th of July the Assasins spread to Syria..jpg


    Alphonse thought Balian was overblowing the issue to get back at Jean. Far from being happy at having a connection to the Queen’s father, the Count was furious at his daughter’s decision to wed a low born. There were some days where Jean wasn’t sure if he had more to fear from his own spymaster than from the Assassins. But he thought he could trust his word on this. The Mayor of Acre had sent a letter conveying his own concerns.

    Jean was overlooking a map in the council chamber when he heard the door open.
    “Surveying your dominions are you?”

    Jean chuckled. “Meager as they are ,yes.”


    The Kingdom of Acre.jpg

    Jean didn’t respond well to mockery unless it came from a friend, and that was what he considered Maria Komnenos to be, odd as it was.
    “But with such a union, surely they will grow in due time.”
    “I hope so. And I also hope that my choice of bride does not upset our friendship?”
    Maria shook her head. “No. Do not forget, I am a Roman, I understand alliance making all too well. Besides, this Henri is said to be kinder to the Romans under his rule than his brother was. So long as you do not intend to do anything to hurt my great granddaughter's position, or to execute all Christians who do not submit to your Pope like they are doing in Toulouse then we can remain friends. I confess I did not suspect you would be able to arrange such a match so quickly.”
    “The Emperor had sent feelers around when I was away raiding in Egypt. It was on my desk when I returned and I sent my reply before we concluded our arrangement. I know the timing was unseemly, but I felt I had to do something to maintain my hold on the Kingdom.”
    “And to have somewhere else to move on to if you should fail. Or better yet, a place to move on to when Isabelle comes of age. Henri is unmarried. This girl is his only child. Should he die without further issue, you may press a claim to the Empire.”
    “Baudoin’s daughter was passed over in favor of Henri.”
    “Then a claim could be transmitted through the female line. Or else some other reason could be fabricated.”
    Jean looked down. He had been married to her granddaughter and now, hardly a year after she had gone he was wedding another for the sake of ambition. “I am far from the first to pursue such a strategy in these lands.”
    “Nor would I fault you. I and my husband Balian were smitten with one another before my stepson Baldwin allowed us to wed, but had I not come with Nablus I doubt he would have given me the time of day. I know well the nature of Ambition, for I myself was once such a person. That said if I were you I would have wed Rita of Armenia, as her succession seems more likely.”


    20200516145339_1.jpg

    "I had thought to do so. However Emperor Henri’s offer was on the table first, and I had no idea what position I would be in by the time negotiations with Armenia were done with. Given recent events, it looked like I dodged a slash there.”

    The Tripoli Armenian War.jpg


    “It seems a foolish thing to fight one’s co-religionists, given our precarious position."
    "Damascus is moving against Tripoli as well, though the Count of Sidon says the Sultan is not supporting his vassal." Why he wouldn't, Jean did not know.
    "And Emperor Henri fights Epirus.” Maria Komnenos eyed him. “I do hope you can persuade your new father in law to make peace. I was quite close with the mother of the Despot’s new wife, my niece by marriage Eschive. Helvis was never the easiest girl to get along with, but she does not deserve to rot in some dungeon.”

    Jean shook his head. “I’ll see what I can do. At the least I won’t be joining this war for the same reason I can’t defend Tripoli, we just don’t have the manpower or cohesion for a war right now.”
    “Then I’ll take my leave of you. I hope you find much contentment in your new marriage, and that your daughter finds a new mother who will cherish her as she deserves.”

    “How is the Queen faring? I hate to admit it, but I have spent so much time on governing her realm that I have rarely spent time with her.” He also felt such things would unman him. Whenever he was around his daughter he wanted to coo and cuddle her. Such things were socially acceptable in small doses, but his men would think he’d gone soft if he spent all day in the nursery playing with the Queen. It might have been different if Maria had borne him a son, but going down that road meant questioning God’s will.
    “Isabelle is a sweet girl. Curious fussy, always a handful, but one would have to be the spawn of Satan not to love her.”

    He found Alphonse pacing back and forth. Savary was leaning on the side of the wall. “Look if you continue to brood over this so much you can just back out of it, I’ll be more than happy to take the girl off your hands.”
    “Over my dead body”, Alphonse spat.
    “Then what’s the problem? You’re having all these doubts about this. I just say take the gifts God offers. Or better yet, frequent the fine whores of Jaffa. Abstaining for so long unbalances a man’s humors.”
    Jean hadn’t been with a woman since Maria had died. In this most Holy of Lands, it felt strange to sully his soul by fornicating outside of marriage. Alphonse had stopped during his courtship of Raymonde.
    “It would not be wise to risk god’s disfavor by sinning. This Kingdom depends on his good fortune, and I would prefer to take no chances.”, said Jean.
    Savary laughed. “Well if your intent on getting rid of sin you should just chop off my head and be done with it.”
    “Don’t tempt me”, said Alphonse.
    “The both of you cease this quarreling. Alphonse, Savary is right in one thing, you should cease this paranoia of yours. You are blessed with a beautiful young highborn wife who adores you, very few men born to your station could say that.”
    “Huzzah I am vindicated. Now for my next sage bit of council, I suggest poisoning the entire council. Alphonse can take Sidon while I gain Beirut and the Templars and Hospitallers can appoint whichever new child diddlers they want.”
    “Sadly it’s a bit late to get poison, it doesn’t grow on trees you know.”
    “More’s the pity”, muttered Alphonse. Jean decided to ignore the fact that his closest companion had wished to murder his father in law.
    “It’s good to do this by your side, Alphonse. Last time I wed I shared a wedding with King Hughes. Good god that boy was a shit. All he did was pretend to be humble and complain about my Uncle Stealing his coin.”
    “I don’t know, I always liked that he crowned himself in a barn, it sent a good message to the men.”, said Alphonse.
    “It sent a message that their King might as well have been a pious beggar”, Jean shot back.
    “I can’t imagine his wife thought well of it.” Said Alphonse with a chuckle

    “Maria told me her sister yelled at him for it.” Jean sighed. It was stupid to go on mourning for one wife on the day he wed another. Truth be told he had hardly thought about the girl he was to wed. She might as well have been a piece of parchment that gave him a claim to the Latin Empire. In a few hours that would all change.
    “Alphonse, these last few months have been a trial for me. I thank you for having been by my side.”

    “I remain ever loyal, my lord.”
    “Oh don’t address me with that formality. If I wanted that we would not be sharing a wedding day. Hughes may be my brother by law, and all my real brothers may be dead, but you are the brother I chose, and the brother I wish to have by my side on this important day and many others to come.”
    “Thank you, your lordship. I know I owe you everything. I will always and forever remain your friend, through thick and thin until the casket slams shut.”
    “I’ll toast to that”, said Savary.
    It was a shame they did not have wine with them now. That would wait until after they had said their vows before the Bishop of Radwan.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    “I, Agnes of Flanders, daughter of Henry of Flanders, Emperor of Rome, take Jean of Brine, Lord of Jerusalem, to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will honor you and obey you and hold you in my heart all the days of my life.”
    Three sentences, and just like that, she was no longer Agnes of Flanders. She slipped away from her father, her Uncle Eustache, Frederick, Flanders, Palermo, Constantinople, all her dreams and girlhood fancies, and into the arms of Jean of Brienne. All that she had been was gone now, like childhood toys one moved beyond. She was bound to him by Holy Vow. To stray from it would invite damnation, dishonor, and quite possibly death. Such a great change for just three sentences. And it had seemed, for a brief second, her husband had the name of another on his lips when he said his vows. Would that be the way of things their whole marriage?
    The rest of the ceremony went by for Anges in the same fast moving haze the first half had. When Raymonde and Alphonse said their vows the bride seemed ready to cry from joy, and the groom's face was bursting with joy.
    Agnes ate little at the feast, the butterflies in her stomach would not allow it. Her husband also turned away most food, and drank little, which made her feel that maybe just maybe, they had something in common.
    Raymonde feasted heartily on all the delicacies Jaffa had to offer and from time to time the bride and groom would feed each other. Her husband seemed to eye that wearily. Raymonde had said Alphonse was his best friend, so she doubted it was out of hatred for him.

    “The food takes some getting used to”, those were the first words she said to her. She almost jumped in astonishment. “Indeed it does”, she answered back. “Though I already have done so. I spent time at the Court of King Frederick, and of my father, the Emperor. My tongue has already been exposed to the spices of Outremer.”
    “Ah I see.”
    “I apologize if I seem cold. It’s just..”
    “You're nervous. I understand. I am new to this land myself. If there's anything you need from me you have only to ask.”
    “Thank you. I left some books on my ship. Silly Greek things, prophecies and the like I picked up from Palermo and Constantinople. I assure you they are quite common in those lands. I was hoping you would allow me to keep them.”
    “Jean eyed her for a long time.” Then his eyes narrowed and his jaw tensed. Is he getting ready to call me a heretic? Yet instead he glanced back over his shoulder, where Raymonde was laughing at something her husband had said.
    “I will have to talk with an advisor about this. If she says yes then I will grant your wish.”
    “Thank you”, she said those words before she had time to think. Her husband had an advisor who knew about Greek prophecies, and a woman at that. For a brief moment she felt thrilled, if he could listen to a woman’s council, then maybe he was more open minded than she gave him credit for. But then she thought, most men call their female advisor a wife. If someone already occupied that role for him, what would become of her? She was pondering this and her uneaten meal when her husband took his leave of her. He was going to speak with her Uncle.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Alphonse was enjoying himself with his new bride. That was more than Jean could say of his Agnes, who had gone through the wedding with the quiet dignity of one being led to an execution. I may not be the most comely of men but by God I look better than Alphonse.
    Savary was drunk off his ass and gleefully engaged in a heated argument with Guy d’Ibelin over a bet. It went on until Baudoin d’Ibelin cuffed his younger brother behind the ear and gave Savary the money. The youngest Ibelin boy hung around the squires, while his sister attended to the Dowager Queen.


    Guy d'Iblen.jpg


    Jean found Eusache talking with the Baron of Haifa. Jean bid the Baron to leave them, he had to talk to the Prince.


    “Ah the lucky groom.”
    “Prince Eustache. I was hoping to discuss the support your brother intends to provide.”
    “I’m sorry?”
    “The Kingdom is in dire need of reinforcement, money, really anything. Otherwise, frankly, the next assault from the Sultanate will sweep us into the sea.”
    The Prince’s eyes shifted back and forth. “Ah my Lord of Jerusalem, I must apologize but my brother does not believe himself obligated to support you.”
    Then what the hell did I marry his daughter for? Jean decided to be more tactful in his speech. “Forgive me, but I assumed that when I made a marriage pact with the Latin Emperor, that I would be getting an actual alliance.”

    The Prince furrowed his brow. “Are you prepared to assist my brother in his campaign against Epirus?”
    Jean frowned, remembering the Queen Dowager’s request. “No, that would not be possible with our limited resources. That said I would remind you that the Despots wife is a Princess of Jerusalem and Cyprus. We would merely wish she is given treatment in according to her rank and her fair sex.”

    “While I personally would never mistreat a lady, the fate of both the Despot and his wife is ultimately for the Emperor to decide. And forgive me Jean of Brienne, but has the sun done something to your eyes?”
    “My eyes?”
    “For surely you must be blind if you do not see the hypocrisy of your actions. You demand support from the Emperor without giving anything in return.”
    “But this is the most Holy kingdom in Christendom. And we are in dire need of aid.”
    “The brothels and gambling dens strew all over Jaffa might disagree with you as to the Holiness of your Kingdom. And you don’t actually control Jerusalem. The Emperor in contrast actually does control Constantinople, a city blessed by god. And if you are to use limited resources as an excuse to shirk obligations then why can’t we do the same?”
    Jean’s gambit had failed. If the letter arrived stripping him of the regency there would be nothing he could do to resist. He’d have options, but crawling off to serve the father in law who had deceived him, or serving as a mere commander to whomever succeeded him as regent, were just too humiliating to contemplate.
    “Why then should I not repudiate this marriage, seeing as your brother refuses to honor the agreement we made?”
    “We are not breaking any agreements. We promised not to attack you, and as Christians we will join in any relief effort the Pope undertakes. But if you repudiate his daughter you will make an enemy of the Emperor, something you do not want to do.”
    Jean was trapped. He had sworn an oath to god, one he took seriously, even if he hadn’t consummate his marriage yet. And the Emperor Henri had the power to crush him, especially if he linked up with any discontents in the Kingdom.
    “I believe I understand your position Prince Eustache. I hope you enjoy the festivities.”

    “I wish you all the best in your marriage. My niece, Agnes is like a daughter to me, and I would hate to see her unhappy, as would her father.”
    Jean headed back to his table. His new bride was conversing with Maria Komnenos. That put a smile on his face for some reason.

    “Your Lordship I was just talking to your wife, and she mentioned to me that she knew Greek.”
    “Does she?” It was bad form to be less educated than one’s own wife.
    “Indeed. It is a good thing for one who would reign over many Greek speakers, be it here or in Constantinople one day.”
    Jean raised his eyebrows. “Would you like that my lady?”
    “I love my father with all my heart. But if he were to suffer misfortune and die without issue, than it would be my duty to take up his throne, or to defend the rights of my children.”
    She smiled at him. They may not have had love or even friendship, yet, but there was a recognition of their mutual ambition.
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    The bride and groom spent their first night together in private, Jean thought she would appreciate that.
    Their coupling had been stiff, quick, and awkward in the extreme, Jean eager for release and Anges eager to be done with the thing. As soon as they finished Jean lapsed into slumber.
    He was awakened by a pounding at the door. Groggily, Jean sat up at the side of the bed. He noted that Anges had left to spend the night in her own chambers. Maria had always stayed with him.
    The knocks on the door grew louder and more frequent. Jean dragged himself out of bed and threw the door open.
    Outside was Savary, red faced and staggering, with a tankered in his hand.
    “What in the Blazes are you doing!”, Jean yelled.
    Savary took another swig.
    “Forgive me your Lordship but a ship just came into the harbor with the most glorious news.”
    “And why wasn’t this conveyed to me?”
    Savary staggered against the side of the wall. “I’m sure a message was sent, but the whole crew already knows. I mean the Pope gave a speech and everything.”

    The Pope gave what...oh. Could it be?
    Savary tried to stagger to his feet, but instead collapsed to the ground. Sitting up, he raised his hands and proclaimed, “Salvation! Salvation! Our souls are saved! You are confirmed regent and the Pope has called a Crusade!”

    Febuary 16th The faitful prepair for war.jpg


    Note: I wanted to say more about the Princess Anna, but I felt it didn’t fit into what was already becoming a long chapter, this is twelve pages on a google doc. As a result I’ll put out an Interlude. I’m still figuring a lot of things out. I’m thinking about adding titles to my chapters in the thread marks, as I find they are easier for people to remember than dates. What would you guys think of that?

    Also I’m wondering if I should make shorter chapters. I’ve noticed a decrease in feedback and I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence, or if my chapters are so long people just can’t find the time to finish them.
    I hope you enjoyed this week’s chapter, any and all feedback is welcome.
     
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    Interlude 1
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    Dear Adele.

    I am not sure my first letter reached you. I sent it just before I left for Constantinople when you were in England, a ward of King Henry, and betrothed to his son Richard. I wanted you to know something about me, the sister you would never meet. Well, father said we would never see each other, I held out childish hope. I know now that we will never meet. I don’t pretend you will approve of the person I have become, but I hope at the very least you will understand her.
    I know you have had quite a turbulent life. Alas, we share that fate. Father seems to have had bad luck where marriage was concerned.
    20200523115211_1.jpg



    Constantinople was a grand city, it still is, even with much of its glory carted off to Venice and elsewhere. To an eight-year-old girl whisked away from Paris to wed a handsome Prince, it was a dream come true. Oh, the wonders I could tell you of.


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    I spent much of my time under the guardianship of Emperor Manuel’s wife, and his eldest daughter, the Porphyrogennete both named Maria. The Emperess was very kind to me. It was she who supervised my education, she spoke French as she was from a descendent of the House of Poitiers. The culture was a blend of our’s and the Greeks. The Emperor adored his wife and would do much to please her. They even held tourneys in their hippodrome. I longed for the day where Prince Alexios could wear my favor.

    20200523120426_1.jpg

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    Of course, my Prince was an insolent brat. Everyone agrees on that now. But I still adored him. He hardly paid me the time of day, but his mother assured me he pinned for me. I think she saw me as a way to retain her influence over her son. That might have been why he resented me so much.
    The other Maria did not approve of her stepmother’s influence over the government. The family I had loved descended into intrigues and schemes, something I am sure you became familiar with at the Court of the Plantagenets.
    Their feuding led to Andronikous Komnennos seizing power, murdering both Maria’s, their followers, most of the Latin population of Constantinople, and my betrothed Alexios. And then he came for me.
    Luckily he viewed me as a mere political tool to legitimize himself and keep the alliance with father. He saved most of his lusts for his mistresses, including his niece.
    Near the end, he ranted to me about how the entire nobility was full of self-interested snakes. How every atrocity he committed was to save Rome and how the people were so wretched and ungrateful to both him and his house. I informed him I was his wife not his confessor. He left me alone after that.
    The new Emperor was a lecherous fool. That whole family was a disaster. For the Romans, and for the Christian world as a whole.

    20200523123243_1.jpg

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    Though Emperor Issac was wed to a Princess of Hungary, he could not confine his lusts to one woman. Many came to his bed, willingly or otherwise. For a time, I feared I was in his sights. He’d taken Andronikos’s throne, why not his wife.

    Fortunately, I had a protector.

    20200523124840_1.jpg

    His family had long defended the north of the Empire from its enemies, no matter their origin.
    So he often found himself fighting Latins, both Normans, and Germans. But he never held me in any contempt, nor did I him.
    By that time I had come to see Constantinople, my home. Truth be told I became unfairly bitter towards our family. Why had father sent me so far away from home? Why had no letters been sent? Why hadn’t they protected me? Was it because I was disposable? I, of course, recognize the distance and difficulties involved in contacting me, and that our beloved father and sweet brother had other more urgent matters to attend to. But I will not say that my heart did not ache from all those years spent alone and afraid.
    Theodoros himself knew the pain of loss, his father had died fighting the Emperor and much of his ancestral lands had been lost to the new Bulgarian Kingdom. I think that is why we understood each other so well. Or maybe he just took pity on me.

    Princess Anna.jpg

    For the first time since they strangled Empress Maria I felt safe and happy. Like I had a home. We considered ourselves to be married, though our cousins from Flanders would feel differently.
    My Theodoros plotted with other discontents to overthrow Issac in favor of his brother, Alexios.

    20200523123256_1.jpg


    Theodoros was in the room when they blinded the Bassilios. He told me he just kept screaming and asking his brother why he had betrayed him. My love told me they had both done it all to save the Empire. I like to think he did it in part for me. But I couldn't help but notice how my second husband used the same justification as my first. I’m sure you get a lot of that from our dear brother. I do not envy the burden placed upon his shoulders.
    Alas the new Emperor was as ambitious as he was craven. Cout Baudoin’s victory in the first siege had more to do with Alexios’s idiocy than any competence or valor on his part, though he was not lacking in those departments.
    My husband decided that the best way to save the Empire was to cooperate with the Franks. I admit a certain stubbornness on my part kept me from reconciling to the new alliance at first. I hadn’t seen my kin from Flanders in years, and the first thing they did was attack my home, endangering the life of my husband and daughter. Alexios the third was no Manuel, but neither were his brother and son and by attacking, the Latins had made a bad situation worse. Still, I pray for the success of our realm.

    I do not deny opposing the ascension of the House of Flanders, nor that I was discourteous to some of the Lords of the Fourth Crusade. But I have reconciled myself to the rule of the Franks. The future of me and mine depends on their success.
    The New Emperor, Henri, is far superior to his brother. He is more willing to listen to the few Roman bureaucrats and nobles who haven’t fled to Nicea and Trebizond. He has also named my husband marshal. I have to think that if previous Bassilios’s had done so we would not be in this mess.
    I have also taken quite the liking to his daughter, Anges. She helped me re-learn the French language, and I in turn advised her on the court in Constantinople. I hope that advice serves her well in Acre. Technically succession remains male only, but I know many who would prefer the young Anges succeed her father should he fail to have male issue, or else Baudoin’s daughter, the Countess of Flanders
    (picture of the Countess of Flanders.)
    I beg you to convince our brother to send relief to the states of the Outeremier. Not just the Empire, but Jeruslum, Antioch, and Cyprus as well. Without aid, I fear we will be done in. Either by the Saracens, or the other roman contender states. For I assure you, they are not finished yet.

    20200523130437_1.jpg

    I would be lying if I said I was blissfully happy. Latin marriage seems to have increased my distance from Theo more than anything. The years of intrigues have left him suspicious of everyone, including me, who has been loyal, steadfast and loving all these years. It does hurt.
    Our little girl has grown up and wed one of the Emperor’s Knights, Narjot de Toucy.

    20200523130414_1.jpg


    I would love to say he treats her well, but that would be another lie. He is a cruel and greedy man. But my Anna endures, for she knows she will be rewarded in heaven. She is the one part of me I know father would be proud of.

    20200523130417_1.jpg


    It is lonely without children. Me and my husband pray for a son, both to warm our hearts, and to keep Adriannople under the control of the Branas family. We were both so happy when Anna was born, maybe a new child can bring joy back into our lives.
    Our Royal brother’s letter mentioned that he placed his natural son, Peire, in your care. I hope you both are well. I am also told you were married, but that it ended due to “complications” related to the Church. I just hope the Lord keeps you and yours safe and well.
    Give my love to our royal brother and to my nephews and nieces.

    Note: I hope you enjoyed this interlude. The next chapter might be delayed, I have to drive back to college to pick up my stuff. Please feel free to give any sort of constructive citisicism, I relish the chance to improve.
     

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    Chapter 5: October 1212
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    Chapter 5: The Regent
    October 1212


    23rd of January Isabella bethroathed to Piere Capet.jpg


    “So you would have my son give up his name and be subordinate to his wife?”

    “I would think it would be more of a partnership than subordination. As to his name, well natural sons don’t pass along their father’s name so there isn’t much to give up. And he will be a King, which I assume is a higher station than you had planned for him.”

    “That is a fair point. You know however I will not agree to a defensive alliance, save for the obligations we already owe the Kingdom as fellow Franks.”

    20200531124649_1.jpg


    “That is not ideal for us, but it is acceptable.” Jean of Beine hadn’t given him any further instructions on how to proceed. If the Pope insisted on keeping the man on as King-Regent, Jean would follow his instructions to the letter. But he would not do his politicking for him. If this fell through it would be on the regent’s shoulders, not his begrudging Chancoler.

    “Bastards are always trouble. The whole point of the Holy Land is to empty the Kingdoms of their troublemakers.” Like Jean Of Briene?

    “So we are agreed then?”

    “Yes. You know I was thinking of sending the boy to the clergy before you came along with this offer.. I’m sure he will enjoy being a King far more. It is quite the unique position, or so I’ve been told.” Phillipe’s smile looked like that of a jin pretending to be human.

    20200531120626_1.jpg


    20200531131955_1.jpg


    And just like that, Jerusalem’s fate was delivered into the tiny hands of a seven year old boy. Of course, he would be grown when he wed Isabelle, and he could suffer some sort of misfortune before that. But for all practical purposes, the matter was settled. The High Court would think as Jean of Breine had, that the sheer prestige of marrying the son of a King, even a bastard, would outweigh any other concerns.



    The ceremony at Notre Dam had been grand. The wedding feast, held at the Castle of Melun, was lavish. Quite obviously beyond the means of the Count of Deux, but then the boy was known to be a wastrel.
    Phillipa's husband the count of Deux.jpg

    He had paid only a third of the cost of the wedding, still well beyond his means. The other two-thirds were paid by the King. The Count’s overlord, the young Count of Champaign might have contributed, but his mother, the Princess Blanka of Navarre had refused outright.
    20200531124741_1.jpg

    She feared the Count of Deux might press the claim of his wife, the daughter of the late Count Henri, Jean’s sister Isabelle’s second husband. She had taken every opportunity she could to terrorize poor Phillipa.

    Henri of Champaign, Isabella's third husband.jpg

    20200527171836_1.jpg

    This had given his niece’s husband to be the opportunity to act as the noble protector, endearing himself to the notables of Champaign, and to his teenage bride. Both audiences cherished these displays of chivalry even if they knew they were somewhat cynical.

    Though many thought the Infanta mad, Jean knew she was not entirely wrong in her suspicions. Phillipa might have seemed content, but Jean knew the women of his family better than that. They were content to bide their time to be sure, to endure setback after setback, but they would get what they wanted, and Jean knew Phillipa wanted Champaign.

    20200531125027_1.jpg

    It was, after all, hers by right if one discounted her elder sister and the King’s explicit proclamation that the line of her uncle would continue through his young son. But courts and Kings were fickle things. King Phillipe could one day find one set of de Blois cousins inconvenient and seek to elevate another. And who would step into that breach but Phillipa?

    Her mother had always intended for her to become Countess of Champaign, though it was to be through marriage to little Thibault. But alas the Infanta of Navarre had not been keen on the match, believing that Phillipa would seek to usurp her husband and rule in her own right as soon as she touched ground in France. This paranoia had actually been to the benefit of Jerusalem in the past, Blanche had paid Alix's dowry specifically to keep her away from France. His own mother had been harsh to him at times, but Jean had no doubt she would have mercilessly destroyed anyone she perceived as a threat to her children.


    Count Thiobalt the second of Champaign.jpg

    The couple dined on strawberries, which they took turns feeding to one another, the bride often repaying the gifts with a chaste kiss upon her husband’s cheek. The bride and groom were engaged in conversation, and seemed to forget the rest of the world existed.

    Parents told their children that marriage was about statecraft and politics, nothing more. And singers wove ballads of true love. Jean had found the truth was somewhere in the middle. No lord could truly put affairs of the heart to the side, but nor could he ignore the political costs of his actions. Many a conflict had started because of lust, with the lords involved claiming interests of state as a later justification. Likewise, chivalry and romance could prove a fine mask for cold calculating ambition, something the Lords of Champaign seemed to have down almost to a science.

    Jean wondered what sort of balance young Peire would strike. He hardly knew the boy, but Jean doubted any man, even a bastard would-be keen to give up his name and take that of his wife, let alone allow her to hold power over him.

    When the Queens of Jerusalem looked abroad for husbands they usually took men with decades of military and leadership experience.

    Foulques of Anjou and Henri of Champaign had been powerful lords in their own right before traveling to the Holy Land to take up the Crown. Conrad of Montferrat had saved the Kingdom. Aimery de Lusiganan had risen through the ranks of the nobility until he became King of Cyprus, before he capped off his career by wedding Queen Isabelle. Even Jean of Brienne, for all of his many inadequacies, had at least led men into battle, even if most of those battles had been petty squabbles. The only King who had less previous experience than this Peire would be Aimery’s younger brother, Guy of Lusiganan

    That was an unsettling thought. Pierre had a fine name to him true, but it could prove as much a hindrance as a help. The Cappets might aid their bastard relative in a war against the Saracens, but they might also do so if he sought to assert his perceived rights over his wife, or his vassals.


    For now though the King was keeping his distance. He had ended his war with the Emperor, to what would surely be the great dismay of the Sicilians. In exchange the Pope had granted him an exemption from the Crusade. He would though encourage the French knights to head to the east and take up service, either with one of the Crusader States or the Latin Empire.


    Jean wished he could talk to young Peiere. Even at such a tender age a future King should get to know his strongest vassal, and more importantly, know to show him favor. But Phillipe preferred to keep the boy hidden, under the care of his disgraced aunt Adele. So Jean would have to wait at least a decade to tell if Pierre Capet would be another Aimery the lawgiver, or another Guy de Lusignan, the King who lost Jerusalem.

    20200531124831_1.jpg

    In fact, few amongst the nobility seemed to know of his existence at all. It was surprising that the regent knew not only the secret but how to exploit it. Perhaps he possessed more subtlety than he gave him credit for. Being from Champaign probably helped, the King’s mother had been from the County, and so it’s lords were often amongst the royal favorites. It had been what netted both of the sons of Baron Erard de Briene, royal brides.

    20200531124011_1.jpg

    Why couldn’t Jean of Brienne have died like his brother, and left Maria alive?

    It was things like this that led Jean to his cynicism towards god. He drank deep. The wine was fine, from Bordeaux. One of the few things the occident did better.

    He wondered what Khalida was drinking. They wouldn’t give the good wine to servants, even those in the favor of a visiting dignitary. Phillipa and her husband at least seemed to enjoy the wine. He’d seen her last preparing Phillipa for the wedding. After that she’d disappeared off to wherever servants go. Which was a shame. He wanted to talk to her about the marvel that was Notre Dam, with it’s soaring spires and marvelous stained glass. Or for that matter all the other wonders they’d seen over the course of the journey.
    20200531120631_1.jpg

    Most of the nobles were huddled around the King. Ordinarily an envoy from the distant Holy Land would have been peppered with queries. But squabbling to see who could sit closest to the royal person took greater priority.


    Near the end of the evening the King rose to give a speech. “My Lords and Ladies, the fine Counts and Dukes of France. I know this last years had proved..tumultuous for my house.”

    Jean had heard all about the latest Capet marriage fiasco in Rome. Phillipe’s sister Adele had been promised to Richard the Lionheart as a young girl and had spent decades in the English court. Richard ended up spurning her, due in large parts to rumors his father had taken her as a lover. This provoked conflict with Phillipe. Eventually she was married to Count Guillaume of Ponthieu They had one daughter.

    However, years later, the Pope declared that the marriage was invalid because a priest had confessed on his deathbed to having presided over the bigamous wedding of Adele to King Henry the Second, the King having been deluded enough to believe he would outlive his wife, Elanor of Aquitaine, or else just wished to spite the Church and his sons on his way to the grave. Things got even worse when a wetnurse confessed to having delivered the couple’s stillborn son. Adele herself confessed to her husband. Though a kind man, the Count had no choice but to put his wife aside, and faced with his sister’s own confession, the King had no choice but to accept. The outrage amongst the French nobility over one of their own being given “soiled goods” forced the king to wed his fourteen-year-old daughter to the Count, as compensation, and severely curtail his ambitions. And this wasn’t the first time the House of Capet had tangled with cannon law in regards to marriage.
    Princess Adele of France.jpg

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    “Thankfully the Lord has blessed us with a new union. May the marriage between my cousins prove happy and fruitful. To the Houses Capet and Blois, and to France!”

    “To France!”, the Lords raised their cups.

    The King seemed all powerful. Yet Jean knew that even he had bowed to the will of the Church. He had been unable to annul his marriage to Ingeborg of Denmark and had been forced to set aside the woman he had married in the meantime, who had given him two sons.

    Queen Inborg of Denmark..jpg

    20200531133828_1.jpg


    They stayed in Paris for a week, hunting and feasting with the King and his Court. When they departed Phillipa insisted on sending her uncle off with a puppy fathered by one of her husband’s finest dogs.
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    Many of Phillipa’s ladies would stay to keep her company in this far away land. Khalida though would be returning to Jeruslum with him.

    He invited her to walk with him at the head of the column. She carried his new puppy in her arms.

    “My Lord.”

    “Khalida I have missed your company.”

    “I serve at your pleasure my lord.”

    “You like him don’t you?”

    The little ball of fur licked her face. Khalida laughed. “I consider him to be my firstborn.” Jean smiled at that. His doubts were gone.

    “You know I appealed to the Pope to make me regent in place of Jean of Brienne?”
    20200523174214_1.jpg

    “Of course he wouldn’t, my love. You are far more capable than that oaf. The Pope wants a dog he can lead around by the nose, not a real ruler.” He loved it when she talked like that.

    “You once called me master of Jerusalem. That was incorrect. If I was master of Jerusalem I would be running the kingdom not running errands for the uncultured upjumped second son of a baron. All my life others have told me what to do, my father, my mother, god, the church, and I accept that to an extent. But doing the regent’s bidding has been a step too far.”

    “You're breaking with him?”

    “No. That would be too damaging to the Kingdom. I will remain steadfast in my duty. But I will not be a slave to the desires of others. If I am to endure I need the right partner by my side.”

    “Jean my love are you saying what I think you're saying?”

    “Yes.”

    The tears of joy in her eyes were worth more than any regency.
    20200531134526_1.jpg
     

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    Chapter 6: The Regent

    November 1212


    To his credit, the Bishop of Radwan fought like a man. Alas, his bare fists could do little against knights clad in mail. It took one blow from Jean’s gauntlet to throw teeth and blood from the bishop’s mouth and onto his colorful Persian carpet.

    As Guilhem staggered to the ground Savvary slammed a blow into his gut. Even as Bishop Guilhem sunk to the ground, the cruel knight would not let up.

    “Enough, Savary. If I wanted this man dead I would have told you so.”

    “Always spoiling my fun”, Savary muttered sullenly. But still, he obeyed.

    The two Saracen girls in his bed clutched the blanket, tears in their eyes. Jean recognized them as castle serving girls.


    20200609150946_1.jpg

    20200609150938_1.jpg





    “This is an outrage, this goes against King Aimery’s laws. You can’t imprison a member of the council! The High Court will have your head!” The Bishop cried in protest.


    27th of October Creepy priest must be fired before prison.jpg

    “Your right Bishop. Imprisoning a member of the council would alienate the entire nobility and clergy of this kingdom. They’d run me out of the kingdom for it.”


    Jean paused to allow hope to build in the treacherous priest’s heart.

    “Fortunately, as was agreed upon in the council meeting you missed while attending to this lovely ladies, you are no longer a member of my council. As such it is my right and indeed my duty as a knight to imprison you for your crimes.”

    “Your Grace, I have always been loyal to you. I brought the clergy to your side, I even officiated at your wedding. So I’ve enjoyed some women. I’m a man, I have my needs.”


    “A man has his needs and I sympathize with anyone who needs to alleviate said needs, though when you pay to quench them I would advise you not to do so using my daughter’s coin.”


    “What?”


    “You really think I came here to involve myself in some trivial matter about some Saracen girls? The Spymaster has discovered your embezzlement and the only mistresses you will be seeing are the rats in your dungeon cell. Guards!” It was like pronouncing the wrath of God upon some poor peon. After feeling powerless for so long, it felt good to reduce another to such a state of helplessness.


    The Bishop didn’t try to deny the accusations. All he could do was put on a brave face as he was clapped in irons and hauled off to the dungeon. A fate no man could envy.

    “Mayhaps it is for the best. Away from the temptation of coin and women, I may finally make my peace with God.”


    Jean scoffed.

    “Protestations of piety will get you nowhere Bishop.”


    “With you maybe, but I commend myself to the judgment of a higher power.”


    Two guards hauled him off to the dungeon.


    “Can I torture him?”, Savary begged.

    “No.”

    “Please.”


    “No. We are preparing for a crusade in the face of a pandemic. I do not need to incur the wrath of either God or his representatives on Earth by torturing a man of the cloth, even if he is a soiled one.”
    20200609151644_1.jpg

    Maria Komnenos, his wife Agnes, and the rest of the council awaited him outside the room.

    The Bishop had been taking many of his girls from the poorer segments of the Greek population, and as their semi-official representative, the dowager Queen felt it fitting to preside over his humiliation.

    Agnes had insisted on coming along as well, no doubt trying to compete with the Queen dowager for status amongst the women of the Court. Jean refused her at first. Such worldly things, especially from a man of God, could be upsetting to a young woman such as herself. More importantly, her distress could make conceiving a son more difficult

    She had not liked that explanation. “Am I nothing but an oven for you to bake your sons in, my lord husband?”

    Yes, and also an outlet for my base desires, both political and sexual, but that had been an unwise thing to say, and so he brushed her off.

    But she’d been so stubborn, an odd thing for one so outwardly shy and frigid. Seeing her insist on watching the arrest reminded him of some arguments he’d had with Alphonse. That made him more attracted to her, for some reason. Of course, her stubbornness was not the only strange thing about young Agnes.
    Anges of the Latin Empire (wierd scholar).jpg

    “What a disgusting false priest.”, said the Queen dowager.

    “I would have taken his head”, declared Gurien

    “It’s still not too late for torture”, said Count Balian.

    “To think he officiated at our wedding”, remarked Agnes.

    It fell upon Jean to be the voice of reason.

    “Priests are like all men. It shouldn’t surprise you so if they fall prey to their vices.” That felt like something a wise person would say.

    “Well, either way, we are short a priest.”, observed Grandmaster Guillaume.

    “I’ll give the seat to Hubert, at least for the time being.” Jean had given the matter some thought. There were two other bishops under direct vassalage to the crown
    20200609155250_1.jpg

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    But Jean found them unfit for their jobs. The Bishop of Liddle was an arbitrary absent-minded ogre, while the Bishop of Latrun could hardly read.

    “Is he not showing symptoms of consumption?” Maria Komnenos asked.

    20200212180913_1.jpg

    Consumption had broken out in Jaffa not long after the wedding. Jean had taken it as a sign from God that he did not want any waring amongst Christians before the launch of the Crusade, and so had pledged to refrain from all wars until the Crusade was launched. This was only bolstered by the news that Bohemond of Tripoli had been slain in battle.
    20200609153747_1.jpg

    The Death of Bohemond the third.jpg

    Others said the disease was a punishment from God for something his wife Agnes had done. A few foolish people thought it was simply the result of packing so many people together in a small town with minimal sanitation.


    “Hubert only showed symptoms. Besides, I would much rather have a priest who suffers from a physical ailment, rather than one of the spirit. Would you not agree?”


    “You just keep him away from my great-granddaughter”, said the Queen Dowager.


    “Do you really intend to elevate a mere courtier to the council? I admit the two Bishops directly sworn to the Crown are worthless, but surely the Archbishop of Tyre would make a fine addition to the Council.”
    20200609151625_1.jpg

    “Indeed he would, but alas he is directly sworn to you, my Count of Sidon. That would create a conflict of loyalties. Besides, he officiated my first wedding, and I believe I have bad luck when it comes to putting priests who officiated my weddings on the council. Regardless, the appointment is temporary. Are there any more objections?” There were none, which made Jean feel good.



    He took his lunch in his solar with Alphonse, Raymonde, and his wife Agnes. Raymonde looked pale, and Alphonse’s posture was tense.

    Jean told the story of how he had fled from his father, who had planned to send him to the church and gone on the road as an itinerant knight. He’d met Alphonse and Savary along the way. Alphonse had come to Jean’s defense after a sore loser from a tourney took a swing at Jean while he was staying at an inn. Out of gratitude, Jean had taken him into his service. They, journeyed from tourney to tourney, earning enough to keep their horses fed and their armor in good condition. As romantic a tale as ever told.

    Especially when Jean left out the embarrassing parts, like the time a man eloping with a nun managed to outrace Jean, who had been determined to return the women to her convent, and secure the coin her “husband” had gathered for them. He would have returned it to the church, after helping himself to a generous finder’s fee of course. They’d been strapped for money, and Jean had figured god provided in mysterious ways.

    The tale reached the part where they met Savary. He’d been a man at arms in service to a Baron whose tourney Jean and Alphonse had been attending. They’d been heading away, Jean having taken the champion’s purse when a certain soldier ran after them, offering to take up service. He needed to get away from his liege quickly, and they needed an extra squire, so it was a match made in heaven. Later Savary confused what had got him into such trouble. The castle cats had been overpopulating and so it’s lord had tasked Savary to drowning newborn litters of kittens.

    “Naturally our dear friend took to the grim task with zeal. Unfortunately, this led him to drown the pet kittens of his liege’s beloved daughter. The Baron was furious and so Savary needed to find a new master with haste,”

    “I am not surprised by this”, said Raymonde, who was somehow looking even paler. Jean also noticed that she had hardly touched her food. Does she think I am trying to poison her? Did Alphonse put her up to this?

    “He still does this. Husband, I would like you to make him put a stop to this. I find it most...distasteful. And I am not the only one.”

    “Alas, I cannot give you that comfort. I have known Savary for years. If he is not given some other helpless thing to torment he’ll resort torturing peasants.”

    “Somedays I think we should have never taken him with us”, said Alphonse.

    “Savary is a vicious dog, but a loyal one. One that knows to keep his nose out of his master’s business.” He glared at Alphonse, who seemed to pay him no mind. He had a hand on his wife’s shoulder and was asking after her health. He was always a dense one. Jean blamed it on Alphonse’s common blood.

    At the end of the tail, the young knight returned to his father as a renowned tourney knight.

    “What did your father say to that?”, asked Raymonde.

    “He accepted me back with open arms. My father could be quite arbitrary and he was a humble man, able to reevaluate his choices. Truthfully I think he was just glad I had made something of myself. The whole reason he sent me to the Church was because he didn’t think he could find any land for a second son.”

    Raymonde nodded. “My father could never bring himself to forgive me so openly. Even if he knew I was in the right, his pride would not allow it.”

    And now the trap has sprung. Though it had taken long enough. “I see I see. Alphonse, what do you think of your father in law, our dear spymaster.”

    Alphonse looked his oldest friend straight in the eye and lied. “I like him well enough.”

    “Really. Because that’s not what I heard you and Baron Escalone talking about. You were talking about persuading myself and Count Jean that Count Balian should be replaced as spymaster by the Mayor of Acre.

    7th November Alphonse plots to discredit his father in law..jpg

    4th November, Baron Simon also told to stop ploting Balian's disgrace..jpg

    “He’s a snake, not a soldier. Not one like you or me. In any case, Amedee would be a better spymaster. He has a true and loyal heart, not to mention all sorts of merchant connections.”


    Mayor Amede of Ace.jpg

    “Do you not think I know the objections you will raise? Balian Greinier is my spymaster and a good enough commander. More importantly, he is one of the most important nobles in the realm. And he, unlike you, has yet to plot behind my back.”

    “I’ve fought beside you for years. How could you now accuse me of disloyalty?”

    “What else do you call scheming to discredit a member of my council behind my back?”

    “I call it giving good counsel.” Alphonse stood up, defiant.

    Jean pounded his fist on the table. “You are the son of a blacksmith and a tavern wench you don’t get to have opinions, especially ones that are different from mine!”

    Alphonse took in a breath. “Jean your getting too emotional.”

    “I am not getting emotional! Dam it, you sit there with your perfect wife and your friendship with the Chancellor and all those things that I gave you and you dare to think you know better than me?! I made you dammit and I can unmake you to if I wish. I swear if I say the word it will be back to the road with you.”

    “You wouldn’t dare.” He was starting to sweat. Alphonse was always the worrying type. Jean knew these types of threats horrified him. He could deflect a sword, but the lowborn knight had no defense against the sanction of his social betters.”

    “Do you even know what that man is capable of? Raymonde, could you please tell the regent what you told me.”

    He didn’t say my name. What am I to him?

    Only now did Jean notice that both the women had stepped away from the table, putting a distance between themselves and the quarreling men.

    “My father. My father is a cruel, proud, and ambitious man. He was unkind to myself, my mother, and I fear he will not prove a fitting father to my dear little brother Julian. With all that said, I believe him to be loyal. All my life my father has pursued his ambitions, but he has done so with caution. I believe he will be satisfied with a seat on the council. Removing him would not be to his benefit, your grace, nor would it be to yours, my dear husband.”

    “Hah, even your own wife thinks you a fool”, Jean spat.

    “Don’t think I’ll allow myself to be undone by this temper tantrum of yours.” He turned to his wife. “I knew some things are too good to be true.”

    “It’s not a temper tantrum!” Jean exclaimed as he chucked the half-empty pitcher of wine at Alphonse. The Knight dodged. The wine splattered all over the fine carpentry of the room.

    Raymonde frantically ran to her husband.

    “Love, please. I love you and I know you are not a fool. But there are some things I know better than you, and this is one of them. Please do not move against my father. I told you of his nature because I wanted you to be warry of him. Please for the love of all that is Holy do not destroy yourself do not destroy what we..” As Raymonde’s voice reached it’s most frantic she lurched over and threw up contents of her meal before falling to the ground unconscious.

    “Good God!”, Alphonse exclaimed.

    “Raymonde!”, yelled Agnes, who ran to her friend.

    Jean said nothing. Did I cause this? He had invited Alphonse along with his wife specifically because he felt having her here would have put him under greater pressure to back down. Agnes had to come along because doing otherwise would have raised suspicions.

    Had he caused injury to a lady because of his pride, his envy of Alphonse, his fear of losing one of his only reliable supporters in the realm? If she dies, Alphonse will kill me.

    They carried her to the court Physician, the ingenious Baron of Haifa.

    20200612112726_1.jpg

    . After a few minutes, he expelled the men and brought in a local woman healer.

    The regent, his wife, and Alphonse waited outside the room.

    As the sun began to set, the surgeon came to give his verdict. “Good god Sir Alphonse, you just had to upset her.”

    “Is she alright?”, said Alphonse.

    “Well, good ser Knight, your lady wife is in a delicate, but stable, condition. She should improve after nine months.”
    Raymonde's difficult pregnancy.jpg

    “Are you saying what I think you are saying?’

    “Yes, your wife is with child.”

    Alphonse rushed into the room, radiating sheer joy.

    Raymonde was lying on the bed, tired but otherwise unhurt.

    Alphonse took her hand and apologized profusely.

    “All is forgiven. I told you about my father because I wanted you to be wary of him. I should have known better. We are too well matched. Hopefully, our child will have our best qualities, with perhaps a bit more patience.”

    “I also width to apologize, to you Alphonse. I may also reconcile with you, Alphonse. I admit I may have been...overzealous in disciplining you. I recognize you did what you did out of loyalty to me, even if it was misjudged. In the future, I shall remember to ask for your advice when I have need of it.” The humiliation of admitting to this was his penance for his prideful display.

    Alphonse took longer to respond than Jean had anticipated. “I remain your man, always and forever. I will reconcile with Count Grenier, for Raymonde’s sake if nothing else. But with all due respect, I must now think of my child’s future. I have served you loyally for years. Surely you can’t think of anyone better to govern some of the reclaimed lands.”

    Jean smiled. “It would be my honor to have your line grow and prosper in this Kingdom.”


    20th Novemebr Alphonse ends his schemining.jpg
     
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    Chapter 7: The Regent
    February 1213

    “You know they used to castrate men for things like that.” Jean looked up from the map.
    “Forgive me my Count of Sidon, but if marrying a Maronite is grounds for castration, then I’d have to castrate my own physician.
    20200616110004_1.jpg

    I know you good men have acquired local customs, but I have no desire to be treated by a eunuch. And last I checked it was considered unknightly to bring up castration in front of a lady, especially if that lady is the mother of the intended castrati.”
    “I assure you, men have said worse in front of me, the Count of Sidon knows this. You must not take offense on my account my Lord of Jerusalem. After all, it might do my son good to have only one head to think with,”, said Maria Komnenos, who was filling in on the council for her absent son.
    “In any case, I did not mean the Count of Beirut, I was referring to our other befuddled bridegrooms”

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    20200616105941_1.jpg

    Baron Yves of Monsinguard cropped.jpg

    Baroness Hasanah of Monsinguard with child.jpg

    “The sheer imprudence of it floors me more than anything else. Almost every highborn in the kingdom has a pretty serving girl to warm his bed when his wife grows frigid, but do these fools not understand the difference between a mistress and a wife? I dread to think of the world my children and grandchildren will inherit.” The spymaster knew enough about the Count of Sidon to know he was thinking of his eldest daughter, Alphonse’s wife, Raymonde.
    “Hopefully it will be a world where the cross rules over Jerusalem.”

    “I never would have taken the marshal for a heretic lover”, said Gurien.”
    Guillaume muttered something in agreement. The stress of his work had been wearing on the young man, and he spoke rarely.
    (picture.)

    The priest took the situation the best. “Mayhaps it is a blessing in disguise. The good Constable is strong in his faith. He must be trying to bring his lady wife into the faith, adding yet another ewe to god’s flock.”

    For all their bloviating and bellowing the council intended to do nothing to the Constable. The Baron had invested in equipping the men of Beirut and Sidon, as well as giving the Holy Orders great deference. They were furious, but Yves of Monsinguard was far too valuable to punish. And Jean couldn't do anything either. Both of the Barons held lands in Jaffa-Askelon, and were thus far too important to alienate. All Jean could do was pray that God would understand his predicament.

    “I will talk to my son. Now can we get back to the topic of killing Saracens instead of bedding them?” Maria Komnenos slapped her palms on the table. If she were a man she might have pounded them. Still, the point was conveyed.
    “The death of Bohemond has left the north of Outermreier in a delicate position. The Prince’s will had split his dominions between his sons.”
    Count Raimond the Fifth of Tripoli.jpg

    Duke Bohemond the 4th of Antioch (young).jpg

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    “The second youngest, Bohemond, has returned to Antioch with the Wasilid Emir as his captive.
    20200220161327_1.jpg

    He believes the war is over and has made peace with the Armenians, ceding his brother Phillipe’s county of Iskardon. He claims piety, the need to prepare his realm for the Crusade. However I have heard he wishes to consolidate his position in Antioch. The Prince rightly or wrongly fears some of his enemies in the Principality will launch a coup in the name of his brother, Henri the Count of Salone.
    Either way the Prince has been reaching out for allies. King Hughes has wed his sister Sybille, my granddaughter, to the Prince. According to Alix she is very happy with her husband and glad to live in such a Holy City.”
    Prince Bohemond of Antioch and Sybille bethroathed 16th of January.jpg

    That brought a faint smile to Maria Komnenos’s old wrinkled lips.
    “However, his brother Raimond is determined to fight his father’s wars to the end. He ravages the County of Beqa, hoping to avenge his father and end the threat to his lands. Phillipe, has sworn allegiance to the one brother who might help him keep his lands.”
    “All this leaves Tripoli open for Raimond Roupen. Especially since the Prince’s Uncle, another Bohemond, it gets confusing with that blasted family, has taken young Raimond, also his nephew, under his wing”, explained the Spymaster.
    20200616125552_1.jpg

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    20200616125600_1.jpg

    “Has King Levon shown any signs of pressing the boy’s claim to Tripoli, he is after all the boy’s grand uncle on his mother’s side.”
    “None that we’ve seen, Lord Regent. The King mostly seems focused on getting in one last conquest, and stabilizing the Kingdom’s frontiers. His only heir is after all a daughter, and he no doubt wishes to leave her a stable realm with hegemony in the north.”
    Maria Komnenos spoke next. “Hopefully the Crusade will ease tensions. Roupen is the heir to poor Honfroy de Toron. We could offer to give him a part or all of Outerjordan and Galilee in exchange for dropping his claim to Tripoli. Count Raimond would be most grateful.” And Maria Komnenos’s own soul would be put at ease.
    Jean needed to give this matter more consideration. He had a rough idea of what he wanted the Kingdom to look like at the end of the Crusade. Alphonse would be Duke of Outerjordan, the second most powerful man in the realm. That would elevate the Count of Sidon’s line, securing his continued loyalty, as well as giving Jean and Isabelle a stalwar ally. He supposed the boy Roupen could be Alphonse’s vassal. Nablus would go back to the Ibelin’s, obviously. The remaining lands would be doled out to a mix of claimants whose ancestors had lost them after Hatin, and friends and relatives of Jean’s. King Levon was not the only one who wished to leave his daughter a stable realm. Though if Jean was perfectly honest this was also for his own benefit. If he was ever to claim the Latin Empire he needed a stable power base with a loyal and pliant nobility.
    “The war between Emperor Henri and Epirus is over. The Emperor is victorious, though he has been forced to give up hope of adding Epirus to his dominions, and rush back to defend Constantinople. The Empire faces threats from both peasant revolts and nomad raiders. Nicea is also expanding, and surely will try to launch a campaign of reconquest soon.”

    Febuary 1st, Emperor Henri faces peasant rebelion.jpg

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    “I also believe the Despots wife, Helvis of Lusingion has been released from captivity”, added the Count of Sidon.
    “That is very good to hear.”
    Maria Komennos had often spoken of how close she was with her former sister in law, old Aimery de Lusingion’s first wife, Eschive de Ibelin. It was only natural that she wished the best for her children, even if they were not related by blood.”

    “Will the Sultan not muster to defend his own vassal? Surely now would be the perfect time to strike us. Land a killing blow before the armies of the Crusade can muster.” Guilame of the Templars rubbed his temples and furrowed his brow.
    In contrast the Hospitaller Grand Master remained unflappable. “If they do so, my order stands ready to defend the Holy Land. That said we have been given no indication the Sultan wishes to assist Damascus. Most likely this is because he is tied down countering the Armenian revolt.”
    (pictures)
    “Surely Damascus is much more important”, said the Count of Sidon.
    “He needs to crush the Armenians while Levon is distracted. Or else he may move to aid his co-religionists. For now, the Sultan is content to let Armenia and Tripoli fight each other, and leave the Emir to his fate.”



    Five men were arrayed before the regent in the practice yard. Savary, who was pummeling his boot on the ground as if he was stomping yet another puppy to death.

    Alphonse was at his attention in his armor, glaring at his father in law, the Spymaster, Count Balian of Sidon, who was glaring right back with murder in his eyes.

    The Court Physician, Arnol of Haifa, who though rumored to be a craven, possessed an undeniable genius for all things, warfare included.

    The Mayor of Acre, Amedee, though Jean had turned down Alphonse’s request to make him spymaster, the regent had found him to be a skilled commander.

    These were the men Jean would take Jeruslum besides, or else fall into shame and ruin.

    “I assume you men know whey I’ve called you together. You are the men who will lead this Kingdom to Glory or destruction. You are my commanders, my brothers of battle, and I thought it fitting to spar together.”
    “Why? Are we planing on killing one another? If so I call the craven”, Savary said, pointing his blade at the Baron of Haifa.
    “What was that you fucking low born cutthroat. Say it again you dammed cow brained fuck! Go on I dare you!”
    “Enough!”, Jean yelled. “We are here to respectfully spar so we know one another’s strengths and weaknesses and develop a warrior’s respect for one another. Like King Arthur and his Knights of the Round table.”
    The Count of Sidon coughed and then spoke. “My Lord Regent forgive me, but you do know how King Arthur ended right?”
    Jean sighed and reminded the Count was far too politically important to backhand. “We will be like the knights of the round table except for the part where Lancelot beds Arthur’s wife. And the part where Arthur’s bastard kills him, or the part where the Kingdom falls to ruin. Am I understood?’
    “Aye my lord”, The Count of Sidon said in a tone that indicated only understanding, and not respect.
    Jean divided the men into two groups. The first was led by Balian of Sidon, as befit his rank. It included Savary and Amede of Acre. The second group consisted of himself, Alphonse, and Arnol of Haifa.
    “Give them hell my love!”, a voice called from the battlements overlooking the yard. Raymonde stood, waving at her husband, with Agnes in tow, little Isabelle dangling in her arms.
    Alphonse called out to his wife. “You should be resting in bed not climbing the battlements. What if you get hurt?”
    “And I also noticed you didn’t cheer me, daughter”, added Balian of Sidon.
    “Raymonde is a lady of the court. When both Queens wish to entertain themselves, it is their duty to follow. Isn’t that right your grace?”
    “Gumma Gumma”, Isabelle replied in a child’s mimicry of the word grandmother.
    Arnol of Haifa sighed. “Just because your wife is carrying a child doesn’t mean she’s made of glass. I should know, my own wife just birthed a son. I spent almost her entire term away at court serving the Crown. Did I worry and moan about her and the child? No, and now God has blessed me with a healthy son.
    Alldabert de Haifa.jpg

    So quite your fretting and draw your steel, Sir!”
    With that, the battle commenced.
    Jean steeled himself. If he lost badly he would be humiliated in front of his commanders, his wife, and his daughter. In hindsight, this may not have been his most brilliant idea.
    The two groups moved forward, eyeing each other warily. Jean was facing Amedee of Acre. The mayor held a defensive stance.
    Alphonse and his father in law immediately came to blows. Savary came for Haifa like a dog that had flushed a hare.
    “Time to batter a craven!”, Savary yelled.
    “Oh, I’ve been waiting for this!” The Baron called back.
    Jean’s blood rushed. He couldn’t wait. The song of battle called. He threw himself at the Amedee. The steel clashed with steel in a glorious song. The mayor kept his stance defensive, clearly hoping to exhaust Jean. He kept pressing forward hoping to make Amadee make a mistake. Jean would not lose a commoner. Before he realized it he had reached too far and left himself open. Yet the mayor did not go for the blow. Jean drove in for the “kill”, hitting his commander in the chest and driving him to the ground.
    The sparing around him had died down. Alphonse had bested his father in law whilst Savary stood victorious over Arnol of Haifa, who lay on the ground cursing.
    Jean heard the Queen call out “Papa! Papa! Papa!” as loud as her little lungs would allow.
    “Are you crying, my lord?” asked Mayor Amedee.
    “The dust got in my eyes good sirs, and don’t any of you dare say otherwise.”
    "As you wish my lord, I am at your command."
     
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    Chapter 8: June 1213
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    The Latin Princess
    June 1213




    Little Isabelle crawled and toddled after Agnes’s cats, Basil the Black and Griffon the Grey. Agnes herself was sitting in her chair, at the small table close to the window, by the sun, having hardly touched her meal. Raymonde was lying on the bed, her back propped up by pillows, her plate on a table at the side. The juices from the heaps of fruits and meat she was devouring overflowing onto her dress and bulging belly, and dirtying the sheets. It was impossible not to marvel at her single minded devotion to gluttony.


    “Are you going to finish that”, she asked greedily, pointing to Agnes’s food.


    21st of April Raymonde is in her final months..jpg


    She shrugged. “Probably not”.


    Raymonde eagerly snatched up the plate of figs and juicy meat and got to work. “Mmh this is so good. Are you sure you don’t want some?”


    Agnes focused on the table wood, absorbed in melancholia. Isabelle darted out from under the bed, the cats plodding after her. Agnes was dimly aware of a question being asked her, but paid it no attention, her mind was elsewhere..


    “No Isabelle, you don’t get a baby in your belly by eating too much food”, said Raymonde


    The war had been going so well. Freideirch had won battle after battle. Otto Welf had been loosing support by the day and distracted by a war with the Magreb Emirate. Even the Pope revoking his excommunication could not salvage the war. It seemed as if nothing was blocking her old friend from the Imperial throne. But then fate had taken a turn for the worse.




    13th of May Imperial and Sicilian troops clash in central Italy while Frederick's family langu...jpg


    20200711093543_1.jpg






    “No Isabelle, I can’t tell you exactly where babies come from.”


    Agnes didn’t want to think of what the Emperor’s barbaric Swiss Mercenaries had done to Sicily, or how they would misrule the beautiful isle if the Emperor gave it to them as a fief, as per his promise.


    26th of November Frederick gets the Swiss Sicked on him..jpg


    20200221143029_1.jpg


    20200221143441_1.jpg

    “Well when your married, and if you ask god really nicely, then you’ll get a baby.”


    Or what those monsters might do to, the Queen and Crown Prince.


    Prince Captive.jpg

    20200711100733_1.jpg


    Agnes could not forgive herself for the brief joy she had felt upon hearing of their misfortune. Constanca had been good to Agnes, for the brief time they had shared the King’s company. And knowing Frederich, he would cherish his first true born son. Why did she have to be so lovesick and envious? Am I truly as horrible as they are saying in the streets?


    Basil, the black cat, brushed against her leg, and she smiled in spite of herself. People said cats didn’t care for people, that they held them in contempt, but Agnes just thought they were shy, like her. Shy, stubborn and proud. They would treat you with respect if you treated them with respect. Perhaps that was why she found them so easy to get along with.


    Agnes’s servant, Marayumah, came to carry Isabelle off for her afternoon nap.


    “Agnes, can the cats come and cuddle with me?”, the little Queen pleaded. Raymonde had been right, little Isabelle was impossible not to love. Still, Agnes had never been good with small children, and she found Isabelle difficult to understand. It’s why she found it strange when the little girl called her mother. Isabelle alternated between that word and Agnes’s name. Usually she called any adult woman taking care of her mother, alternating between that and the woman’s real name, not understanding the exact biological and legal technicalities.



    It was good that the Queen had taken such a liking to her cats, Griffon in particular, the gentle grey old man would ignore the Queen’s tugging of his tale, or the times she would clamber and climb over him. Alas, Agnes doubted that the favor of a two year old would be enough to save any of them from the wrath of a mob of discontented peasants. It did mean she had at least one thing in common with her stepmother. Maybe, in time, she would introduce her to the arcane.


    “Of course you may Isabelle, I’m sure they’d love to spend the evening with you.”


    “Yay”, the little girl cheered.


    Just before she was carried out of the room she commanded Raymonde’s baby to be good and not give her mother trouble.


    “Be good baby. Your Queen commands it.” Isabelle was beginning to recognize the concept of monarchy, though she had yet to grasp the intricacies of her regency yet. As far as she was concerned she did what her father, Agnes, and Raymonde and all her other attendants told her to because they were her father and her caretakers. She would take any opportunity to boss around those she considered beneath her.


    The two woman laughed and waved goodbye to the little sovereign, who blew kisses back at them.


    “She’s such a cheerful little girl, hardly a care in the world”, Raymonde said wistfully. She was now sitting up on the edge of the bed.


    Agnes smiled. “Would it that god would grant all of us the ignorance of a child.”


    “You’ve been very distant as of late. Is something troubling you.”


    “Oh it’s nothing. Just a bit of melancholy. Some news came back from Constantinople. My Uncle didn’t get his county back in the peace agreement, and my good friend Princess Anna’s new baby is sick.”


    20200711105319_1.jpg



    Raymonde nodded her head. “And you are not at all thinking of King Frederick’s misfortunes? Or sad about what the Queen Dowager wants to do with your cats?”


    “You yourself have been quite distant as of late”, Agnes shot back.


    “I also have loved ones to worry over. And you didn’t deny it.”


    “All right all right. Yes. I am worried about Frederick. Is that so wrong?” She would have denied it to most people, certainly to her husband or the Queen. But Raymonde had been her first friend at court and had always been good to her, even if they had grown apart in the past few months. She deserved honesty.


    “No. Not at all.”



    “It’s just. It’s just that theirs’s so much on my mind. I am the regent’s wife, and yet the Dowager Queen is treated with greater esteem than myself.” “ Mayhaps my husband should have wed her, they like each other better and are closer in age", Agnes snapped, with more venom than she thought she could spend for a man she did not love. But then it wasn’t Jean’s affection that concerned her, but his council.


    Raymonde laughed. “Queen Maria is kind and wise, it’s no wonder we all turn to her for counsel.” I don’t turn to her for council, not anymore.


    “But fear not. You are my friend and wise in your own way, you’ll grow on people, I promise.”


    “It doesn’t seem like wisdom or kindness to throw my sweet pets to the mob.”


    Raymonde shook her head and sighed like she carried the sorrows of the world on her shoulders. “People are scared and angry because of the consumption outbreak. They look for scapegoats. You are a woman from a foreign land who spends her days alone in her room with scrolls, spells, and cats for company. Their hatred is as inevitable as it is unfortunate.” It was like arguing with the Greek woman all over again. That should not have been surprising, for she had taught Raymonde everything she knew.


    “That still doesn’t make it right.”


    “I don’t think the Queen thinks it’s right either. She believes the restless mob is a threat to her great-granddaughter. For now they say they act against “evil councilors”, but that could change. We can’t afford to chance it’s wroth, especially now. At least that’s my mentor’s thoughts, as far as I can understand them. Maybe she’s correct, maybe she isn’t. I haven’t been in a position to judge as of late.” She gestured towards her belly, swollen huge and ungainly with child.


    She placed a hand over her belly and shifted her sitting. “If I were to be perfectly honest with you, I would sacrifice any creature without hesitation if it meant preserving my child’s life. You may be attached to those cats, but trust me, they are not your children. You will know the difference when the time comes.” She wanted to yell at Raymonde for saying her companions didn’t matter. But Agnes knew that what she was saying was true. She had known it when the Greek woman had said them as well, but she had refused to admit it.


    She took Agnes’s hand. “But maybe the regent will decide to side with you on this. After all, my former mistress may provide good company, but she is old, and do you think Jean of Breiene is the type of man to let his line die with a daughter, however royal she may be.”


    Agnes shot an envious glance at Raymonde’s annoyingly rounded belly. “Lucky you.”


    Raymonde laughed. “I know I am blessed, and I give thanks for that whenever I can. But you of all people should know, I have my own troubles.”


    “I know.” Agnes said wearily, feeling shame for the way she had been pitying herself.


    But there had to be a way to save them. Even if the church said they didn’t have souls, even if they lived short lives, even if people sometimes suffered worse than them, they were still her friends and she would always look out for them, the same way she looked out for Anna, or Raymonde, or her Uncle Eustache.


    Agnes thought back on what Mayumah had told her of the people’s thoughts.


    It is said amongst the people of Jaffa, in the court and in the town, Muslim and Christian and Jew alike, that you engage in wicked rites to bring plagues upon the realm and death to the little Queen. They say your cats are changelings and that at night, after the regent is asleep, they change into demons and have their way with you, so that after you kill little Isabelle their hell spawn may take the throne.


    30th of May Cats blamed for Plauge 1.jpg



    The peasants did not lack for imagination.


    “I mean I have a rowdy little one growing in me, who loves tossing and turning and making things difficult. A husband whose taken ill with Gout of all things, and I can’t help but think it’s my fault for having the servants prepare us all that seafood. And you are what, worried because you have only twenty more years to conceive a child, or that people at Court don’t find you fun to talk to?


    I worry that I may loose my life, that my child may be born weak and die young, or that my husband might be bedridden for life, and you fear for cats? But don’t worry, I cry over your pain and suffering every night.” She wiped her eyes and made a mimicry of a sad face.


    Maybe it was the wine, but for the first time in months, Agnes and Raymonde laughed together.


    “Raymonde you are being too cruel.” And I don’t just fear for cats, I fear for my friends. The point she made to Raymonde was true, even if it was made without anger.


    “I’m sorry I’m sorry. I’m sure the creatures are fine company. But it is true, you could really improve people’s opinion of you if you spent some time outside of your laboratory, or with anyone except your servants.”


    “Or you?”


    She patted her belly. “Or me, I’m not at my most sociable right now, they call it confinement for a reason.”


    The women laughed together again, only for Raymonde’s mirth to be interrupted by a wince and then a groan. She grasped one hand on the bedpost and the other on the table, holding herself steady.


    “Are you okay is it..”


    “No it’s not coming now, I don’t think so anyways.” She spoke fast.


    Her eyes wide and agitated. “The midwife told me these things come as you get closer.” Agnes reached out to her friend. Raymonde held up her hands. “But I shouldn’t worry just yet. I’ll have time when it comes. They think my baby will be here in a week or so.” Raymonde gulped in a breath, Agnes held her shoulders. She breathed in and out, getting calmer and calmer.


    “I still worry though, about the birth I mean. Agnes I have no one to talk to about this. My mother is long dead, my husband has troubles of his own, you’ve been off mopping, and it would just bring up bad memories for the Queen Dowager.”


    She cast her head down and put her arms around her belly. “I know everyone says I’m brave, but the truth is I’m terrified.”


    “I’ve seen a couple of births myself, I know it can be painful.”


    “Have you ever seen someone die of it? I did.” Agnes knew she was referring to Queen Maria of Monferat, Isabelle’s birth mother, the dead woman both her husband, and it would seem, the whole kingdom pined for.


    Agnes grasped her friend’s hand. It was the least she could do. “You can talk to me.” It was the least she could do to make up for not talking with her for months.


    “It was so horrible. She was in so much pain, their was blood everywhere, and it went on for a day and a half. By the end our poor Queen, who had always been so calm and kind, was a half crazed raving lunatic.“ Raymonde had a fearful look in her eyes, her lips were held together tight and tense.


    “Agnes?”


    “Yes”


    “Can you promise me a couple of things?”


    “Sure.”


    “If I die like that, never tell anyone. And second, if both myself and my husband should perish, look out for our child. See him, or her, see them rise high in the world. And see to it that he never forgets me or Alphonse.”


    “Of course, yes to all of those.” She tired to make her voice quiet and soothing. She wasn’t sure why.


    “Good. I know you love your cats, and fear for them, but that love is nothing compared to what I feel for my baby.” You don’t have to keep reminding me.


    “I understand”. Agnes really did, though it was hard not to be a bit bitter, especially when Agnes had no children of her own.


    She sighed. “I understand. Your family must come first.”


    “Thank you Agnes, I wished I had kept you closer these last few months.”


    “Once the baby’s born and you get your health back, I’m sure there is much we could do together.”


    “Assuming I live.”


    “Don’t worry yourself Raymonde, yyour strong, you’ll survive this. You and Alphonse will be blessed with many more children, and you will live a long life happy life.”


    “Was that in one of your books?”


    “Yes, the book of take care of yourself and don’t worry. Raymonde laughed and smiled. “You are a kind woman, Agnes de Flanders.”


    Raymonde yawned and rubbed the black circles under her eyes. “Speaking of taking care of myself, I should get some rest.”


    “Ok. Sweet dreams.”


    “Agnes”


    “Yes?”


    “I left some of your fish for you.”


    Agnes smiled. “Thank you.” Raymonde tucked herself in under the covers.


    Agnes took up the plate and left the room, heading to the old out of the way chamber she had made into her laboratory. The fish tasted really good.


    Agnes had been interested in the higher mysteries for as long as she could remember. At home in Flanders she had been forced to maintain the strictest secrecy. But here in the east things were more enlightened. Frederick had patronized her experiments. She’d had a few rooms in Palermo filled with beakers, cauldrons and old tomes. The King had worked alongside her when he was free from his duties, and once or twice they might have kissed, but for Agnes’s own dammed prudence.


    Her father had always been less openminded, and it had gotten worse after the Crusade. Still, Constantinople had proven to be a treasure trove of arcane secrets. Anna had given her a book of prophecies she herself had owned as a girl, though like Maria Komnenos, she called them superstitious nonsense. That they might have been, but they were entertaining superstitious nonsense.


    Jean had been kind enough to let her bring them with her to Jerusalem. Though he was so preoccupied with planning the Crusade, that sometimes Agnes wondered if he forgot she actually inhabited the same castle as he, and didn’t just magic herself into his bed at night. Of course they saw each other, but his mind was always elsewhere, probably wearing a crown and surrounded by cheering crowds of knights.


    There were days when Agnes wondered how much of this kindness had been motivated by the hope that a happy wife would get with child quicker.


    She entered the laboratory. The grisly brew bubbled up from the black cauldron.


    “Will the potion work?”, Agnes asked the servant girl attending to the pot, Marajil


    Marajil looked up and smiled wickedly. “Maybe too well. My big sister drank a glass of this once, and she birthed triplets.” She shook her head solely. “They tore her apart.”


    Agnes winced, thinking about what Raymonde had told her. “Maybe give me something less strong.”, she said in her best impression of a commanding voice. “I am a dutiful wife, and would like to keep living in order to carry out my duties thank you very much.”



    “Oh no, she survived the birth. And all three of the babies were boys, born strong and lively. But as you can imagine they proved a handful, especially without any servants in the household. Even though she was the jealous type, my sister leapt for joy when her husband got a young pretty second wife Finally an extra pair of hands to help with the children.”


    Marajil grinned. “I’m told the little jinni driven the whole family half mad.”



    Agnes chuckled. She had taken both of the Bishop of Radwan’s former lovers Marajil and Maynmunah, into her service.


    Both had proven excellent help, and fine social companions. Marajil was a genius and possessed a keen mind hungry for knowledge. Maynumah lacked her companion’s love of book learning, but made up for it in wit and charm, and was the better looking of the two. Where Marajil could tell you a horoscope, Maynmunah could tell you a story about a friend of hers who had that same horoscope, usually ending with said friend naked, drunk, or embarrassed, usually all three. They had filled the void left by Raymonde, who, for a time, had been too worried with her own cares to spend much time with her friend.


    It was easy to forget rank, or that these two women were both sworn to a heathen faith and dammed to hell, but then Agnes had never been the most pious of women.


    At 18 Agnes was hardly at the age were women became desperate enough to resort to fertility potions. But she had been married for a year and yet still showed no sign of being with child. Agnes was already only second amongst the women of little Isabelle’s court. If she proved barren, she feared she would fall further. Her husband didn’t love her and she didn’t love him. That was fine, many women had worse marriages. But the future of their partnership depended on having a son. And maybe, just maybe, if she conceived fast enough, she could persuade him to rebuff the mob, as a favor to her.


    “Is it ready?”, Agnes asked.


    “In a few minutes”, said Marajil.


    She let the cauldron settle before taking a bit of the potion, putting it into a beaker and mixing it, Agnes watching fascinated all the while. She wished to learn the process, but Marajil had told her that training would take years, and Agnes did not have the time or the patience for it. She wrinkled her nose, noting the mixture’s ugly green color. What are you a child?


    After the last step was complete Marajil poured the mixture into a cup and offered it to Agnes. By this point Maynumunah had finished putting Isabelle to bed and had come back to see if her mistress needed anything else. They both watched eagerly as Agnes held the cup to her lips. The brew tasted bitter and weak. Agnes spit the mixture out spraying the vile liquid all over Mrajil’s face.


    Agnes was filled with shame but the servants reacted with mirth. “What are you doing! Were you trying to poison our mistress”, Maynmunah asked Marajil between sputtered laughs.


    Marajil took it in stride. “If I were going to poison her do you think I would make it so obvious?”


    Agnes grinned. “Or used something that looked so much like poison?”


    Agnes had another cup prepared and, after ordering the servants off to a safe distance, forced herself to down the substance. Quick thinking Marajil gave her a cup of water to wash the vile brew down with. After that the two of them left to change out of their dirty cloths.


    Agnes decided to catch up on some reading before dinner. She had found The Alexiad in the library of the first Queen Isabelle, a gift from her mother, Maria Komnenos. It had been dusty, probably unread since that Queen’s death eight years earlier, if at all. Agnes had offered to return the book but the old Queen had insisted she’d keep it. “My eyes are close to giving out anyways, and I have already read the book two to three times.” Agnes had never been that interested in historical chronicles. They lied about as often as troubadours, and their lies were usually less entertaining, or so her uncle the Emperor Baudouin had said. But she found the opportunity to read a history written by a woman, and the chance to get closer to the dowager Queen, to be irresistible.


    Alas that friendship seemed to have meant nothing to Maria Komnenos, or at least nothing compared to the safety of her progeny. But couldn’t she have trusted Agnes to figure out a better outcome? She was smart enough to handle a Greek history book, surely she could handle a gang of riotous peasants? And if not why hadn’t anyone told her about the poor perception people had of her before it was too late to do anything. Because at the end of the day I’m just an oven, and not even one that works. Who would talk about affairs of state with a broken oven?


    Maynmunah creaked open the door and slid into the room. She informed Agnes that Jean would not be joining her for dinner.


    “ He is meeting with Gerard, the Mayor of Gaza , officially it is something about taxes.”


    The serving girl gave a sly smile. “I could tell you the true purpose of the meeting, if you so wish.” Agnes narrowed her eyes. She was tired of being left in the dark. “Tell me.”


    Maynmunah gave a flourished bow. “The mayor has been angling for the position of steward. To hear men talk, he is touched by Midas himself.”


    Mayor Geurard asks to be steward January 18th, shot down..jpg

    “Will my husband select him?”


    She shook her head. “That would mean firing Grandmaster Guillame from the council. The mayor may be a better steward, but the Grandmaster is an ally the regent cannot afford to loose.” It made sense, mere competency was rarely the sole qualifier for important positions.


    “As to how I know these things, well to put it simply, people of your station often don’t notice people of my station and will say incriminating things in front of us. For example, I got this tidbit from a girl who was scrubbing the floor while the meeting was conducted.”


    Agnes chuckled. “My husband always was an oblivious one.”


    Maynmunah smiled. “It is not my place to question the regent. Merely to relay important matters to my mistress.”


    Agnes though of having dinner with Raymonde, but was informed that she was asleep. Once she would have dined with the Queen Dowager, but the two of them had not been on speaking terms ,ever since the old Queen suggested killing Agnes’s cats, and besides, the woman was busy preparing to depart for her son’s lands in Beirut.


    So she decided to eat with Marajil and Maynmunah. She told them about all that had happened, the danger her friends were in, and how she wanted to help. They made a plan together over dinner.


    “I think we’re finished”, Agnes declared when she finished her meal, as well as the plan. The two girls smiled. “It’s a good one”, said Marajil. “Indeed”, said Maynmunah, but I need you to change one thing.


    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Raymonde’s labor began two days later, before Agnes had time to finish preparing her plan. She could only watch, and try to comfort her friend through her pains. Maria Komnenos was also there, the two women kept their distance from one another, usually keeping to opposite sides of Raymonde’s bed, each clutching one of her hands.


    After a day and a half of labor, not much progress had been made.


    “Agnes, remember what you promised me!” Raymonde pleaded.


    Agnes nodded. “I do I do, but you will be fine.” Raymonde screamed and cursed through another pain. “I don’t feel very fine!” Where the hell are they? She had just hoped to ease Raymonde’s suffering, and to help her other friends as well. But now the work of her servants might make the difference between life and death.


    A knock came at the door. Baron Haifa entered, followed by a servant. The Baron was tense and nervous, as they all were. A man did not belong in a place like this. Raymonde instinctively looked away.


    The girl who accompanied him was tall and striking, with flowing relish brown hair and light olive skin, she curtsied. “My lady, the potion you requested has arrived.”


    “Lubna, what is the meaning of this? And what is a man doing in this place?”, Maria Komnenos asked sternly. So that was her name. “I asked for her”, said Agnes. That was technically true. “Raymonde, I was worried about you, so I had a servant brew a potion that should speed up your labor.”


    “I am her”, Lubna said.



    20200711120905_1.jpg


    Maria Komnenos glared at Agnes. “Are we in the business of putting the life of a noblewoman in the hands of some random potion? I didn’t think I’d have to tell you this, but this is a matter of life and death not some game for silly young girls.”


    “This girl’s methods are unorthodox I admit, but I have used such potions in the past, though I do not know how to make them. Such things are women’s arts. I merely buy and test. This girl learned her method from one I have trusted in the past. I believe she can help Raymonde.”


    The old Queen shook her head. “I like this not”


    “Raymonde?”, Agnes asked.


    Her poor friend tried to strife a scream, , Agnes moved to take her hand. “For the love of all that is holy I want this thing out of me!” She said panting.


    The servant obeyed the lady’s command and fed her the drink from a wooden spoon.


    Raymonde sipped it down, her face displaying disgust. “Drinking this would be the worse part of my day on literally any other occasion.” The women chuckled in sympathy. The Baron took his leave.


    Raymonde clasped her hands together. “Right on with it then.” Her bravery seemed much more genuine. There was more screaming and agony, only now things went faster. Soon enough they were easing her over to the chair. Agnes remained at her friend’s side all the while. I’ve done it. I’ve helped them all. Soon enough the babe came squalling into the world. Agnes had seen birth before, but somehow the final act still struck her, in all it’s disgusting yet profound glory. “It’s a boy!”, cried the midwife. “I have a son!?”, Raymonde cried with tears streaming down her cheeks. “I knew it. Praise god I knew it!” The ladies busied themselves cleaning the little lad. Agnes remained at her post, if only because her joints were too stuck in place to move.


    Raymonde was still sobbing. “Thank you. Thank god for all of you. Me and my son, we’re both so tired. Why don’t you put me and my babe in the bed and go off to sleep yourselves. You’ve done more than enough for me.” Her voice was so weary.


    “My lady, the afterbrith”, said Lubna.


    “Exactly, after the birth you let the mother get some sleep!” Agnes saw a moment of recognition on her friend’s face, probably a memory of a birth she herself had witnessed.


    “Motherfucker!”, Raymonde yelled.


    It fell on Agnes to convey the joyous news to the men. She found them seated in the great hall and deep in their cups. Jean had apparently put all business of state aside, spending the whole day with Alphonse, as had…the other one. Agnes was surprised her husband had such sentimentality in him, and a little hurt that he never seemed to spend any of it on her.


    Alphonse rose, wobbling as he clutched the cane he hated so much. “I have a son!”

    20200711122034_1.jpg


    Agnes smiled. “Your wife had much the same reaction”


    Savary slapped his friend on the back. “You’ve got yourself a little killer, congratulation. It makes me shed a tear and wonder what would happen if I didn’t give all those whores a little extra to go keep their bellies flat.”


    “You are truly blessed my friend.”, said Jean. He put his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “God gives just rewards.”


    “I feel too dammed old”, complained Balian Greinier.


    All except Savary went up the stairs to see Raymonde. Agnes fell in behind her husband


    “You may be similarly blessed if you make me happy, look at how Alphonse adores his wife”, she whispered in his ear, trying her best to make her voice sound sweet and vaguely seductive. It didn’t work, and in any case they were both much too tired to do anything except congratulate the new parents.


    Raymonde was abed, suckling her little son. Alphonse kneeled beside the bed, stroking the little boy’s hair with one hand, and his wife’s cheek with the other. “You were very brave. So strong, and you gave me the greatest gift any man can ever receive.”


    “Thank you my love. I don’t think I could have done it without the Queen Maria, or Agnes, she gave me a potion that really helped me make it through.”


    “Did she now”, Jean turned to his wife.


    Agnes curtsied. “It was the idea of a Maronite girl in our employ, I merely had it made in my laboratory.”.


    “The same one the peasants are making a fuss over?”, Alphonse asked.


    “The very same”, replied Agnes.


    “What do you actually do there”, Jean asked his wife, for the first time.


    She shrugged. “I read, and brew potions, especially fertility potions.” Jean almost jumped at that. “Do you now?”


    “Yes she does. In fact I took one in October, just before I was blessed with this little one”, said Raymonde, who raised the baby up in her arms, carefully so as not to startle him. I never told you to lie for me.


    It was the dowager Queen’s turn to speak. She sighed, her voice heavy. “Your grace, I was not told of any of this. But even if it is so, the point remains, the peasants are blaming your wife and her pets for all the ills that befall them. She may continue to read her tomes brew her potions in secret, but we must offer something up to appease the mob. I know it is a hard choice, once I might have shied from making it, but you are responsible for my great grandchild's safety and..”


    “Would you hurt me so after all I have done?”, Agnes said pointedly. “It it’s not just me who would cry. Little Isabelle loves the cats. Would you really cause both of us sorrow, and lessen the chances of god blessing us with a son, all to appease a mob of peasants? If that is your will husband, their is nothing I can do to stop you, but at least let me be a comfort to your daughter in her grief, and she mine.”



    Jean tensed up. “I appease no one!” he yelled, causing the infant to cry. Raymonde fussed over him while Alphonse glared at Jean, who paid him no mind. “Maria I am more than capable of defending my child and my Kingdom. I was already uneasy about yielding but this does it. I will not have this joyous occasion marred by slaughter!”


    The Greek woman seemed like she was going to say something, paused, looked to Raymonde, shook her head, and spoke. “I am tired your grace, we all are, but I am old as well and don’t wish to fight you on this. Do as you will. I am going to sleep. I will depart soon too see my sons and sort out their sordid affairs. But if one hair on little Isabelle’s head is harmed, or if harm befalls anyone at this court, so help me god I will haunt you through the gates of hell.” She stormed out. Agnes felt like she should say something to her, give some reassurance, but she was just too exhausted. However none of that stopped her from savoring the sweet taste of victory.


    On the morrow, just after breakfast, Agnes talked with Maynmunah. “Your plan worked brilliantly, I can’t thank you enough.” Maynmunah smiled and blushed. “It was nothing really, you had the idea to make a potion to help your friend, and it was Marajil who did most of the actual brewing, I just provided some conversation tips, and advised you to pass off the potion as one of Christian making, so as to gain the trust of the noblewomen. They’re usually okay consulting with Muslim magics and medicine, but we couldn’t take the chance with a situation as delicate as this. It was fortunate that I know some people who know some of the good Baron’s questionable commercial dealings. And Lubna is ambitious, fortunately she sees cooperation with me as a means to fulfill her ambitions.”


    Agnes shook her head. “You give yourself too little credit. Those mere conversation tips brought me closer to my husband and saved the lives of my feline friends. And your potion may have saved the life of Raymonde.”


    “Still, it was no big deal. I knew your nature, and that of the other women, from first hand experience. You told me of your husband, and I explained to you how such a man can be won over.” Agnes had argued many of those same points alone with Jean, usually just before bed or just before waking up, but each time he had brushed her aside with an appeal to Maria Komnenos’s age and wisdom, or his own grim duty as a man. Once in a while she stormed out of the room. But cornering him, while his envy of Alphonse, and his desire for a son of his own, was at it’s highest, putting her plea in sweater words, and implying that appeasing Agnes’s would bring him closer to that goal, had been key.


    Agnes fidgeted with her fingers. “I confess, I am not very good with men.” She laughed nervously.


    Maynmunah laughed. “They say I’m quite good with men, over them under them, side to side, they all say I’m a great conversationalist.” Agnes burst out laughing in spite of herself. “You are a wicked woman.”


    “Your religion and mine agree on a surprising number of things, amongst which is that women like me are destined for damnation. But I don’t mind really. Better that than an eternity of boredom right?”


    Agnes found it best to shift the conversation to something she was more comfortable with. “Raymonde and Alphonse named the baby after her father, even though they both dislike him. I don’t know why. I suppose we all have complicated feelings towards our parents.”


    Maynmunah shrugged. “My mother died giving birth to me, my father’s second wife was put in charge of raising me. She hated me and I hated her right back, and my father, for he ignored what she did to me. I don’t see what’s so complicated about that.”


    “I’m sorry”, was all Agnes could say. “It’s not your fault my lady, you never took anyone I loved from me.” An awkward silence followed.


    “Maynmunah , I would like you to provide me with the same sort of help in the future.”


    “Of course mistress, I would do anything for you, so long as you keep me in your employ and compensate me well, I would be at your beck and call.”
     

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    Interlude 3: The Cat Speech.



    The town crier proclaimed the Christening of the new lordling, Balian Grenier. Son of Alphonse and Raymonde, grandson and namesake of the Count of Sidon. Afterword's the Knight Ser Savary, the only Knight who didn’t attend the cermonony, for according to rumor he was barred from appearing in any church, mosque, or synagogue, rose to speak.


    “People of Jaffa, Latins, Levanntines, Saracens, (unmentionable slur for Jews that shall not be repeated in this AAR.), lend me your ears. You have defined this plague to protest and petition your government, to demand that the regent put down the cause of this plague, the cats. We have heard your please and we have this to say.


    We do not care about you. At all. You are all dirty, worthless, and useless, fit only to serve your betters. My Lord of Briene values his lady’s happiness over your lives, and you should be thankful he rules you and not I, for I value you even less. Now get back to work!


    Pray that however many of you this accursed illness kills, that enough of you are left to keep paying taxes. Your money goes into my pockets and it in turns goes into yours, after I am done putting my own coin into your daughters pockets, the double meaning is very much intended.”


    The mob fell silent, shocked that anyone in government would say openly what they so obviously thought of the people of Jaffa. Then a single, great, collective scream of sorrow and rage and pain was let out as the crowd threw whatever they had, rocks, trash, even a small animal or two, at the arrogant Knight. This served to convey the people of Jaffa’s opinion of their government.


    “Guards to me!” The men at arms formed a shield wall.


    “Just like my sisters.” Savary sniffled in feigned sorrow.

    3rd of October Civl unrest in Jaffa..jpg

    Authors Note: Sorry for the delays. As a reward I'm treating you to two chapters. I have a new schedule, so I don't think this will happen as frequently as it did in the past.
     
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    Chapter 9: October 1213
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    The Crusader King?
    October 1213

    Jean of Breine had wanted to spend the night before the army departed with Agnes. It was what men did with their sweet hearts in the songs. But alas life was not a song and young Agnes de Flanders could hardly be called his sweetheart, or anyone’s for that matter. He didn’t know what type of man a strange woman like that could love, but it surely wasn’t him. Not that he minded of course, such things were common in marriage. Instead he’d spent the evening firing off dispatches to the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s northern vassals, including the Templars and Hospitallers.


    20200221174329_1.jpg


    The Templars and Hospitlers were to march through Tripoli and form up under the command of the Count of Sidon, who would join them with his own men, alongside the royal levies of Acre and Count Ibelin’s forces marching from Beirut. From there they would subdue the County of Touron, beginning the process of establishing the old defensive borders of the Kingdom. Sidon would have jurisdiction over the two commanders from Acre, Mayor Amede and Baron Arnol.


    He’d had Humbert read William of Tyre’s chronicle of the Kingdom to him as he drifted off to sleep. See I am learned. He would never admit to it, but it was embarrassing to have a wife who was more learned than you.



    13th of May, Jeane of Briene wants to improve his learning.jpg



    Fittingly enough the reading had ended on Baudoin the Fourth. The Hero King who against all odds had rallied a disintegrating Kingdom to repel the Saracen hordes one last time. The whole thing was rather Arthurian. His kin had lost it all. Now was Jean’s chance to earn it back. I wonder what they will say of me. If they’ll say anything about me?
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    In the morning he washed up and ate breakfast with his men. Most were Outremair born. The Knights traced their descent from warriors who had come on crusades past. The common footmen were mostly Greek, Armenian, or Maronite Christians. A few Muslims stood under their numbers, though Jean had ordered they be kept well away from him. Tolerance was yet another Queer Outremair custom he had yet to adjust to. Whatever their origin, they were the army that would fight and die for the Holy City. And they seemed to act like most soldiers did before a campaign, with a mixture of fear and bravado. That at least didn’t change when one crossed the Mediterranean.


    Agnes had her own duties, preparing to move of the Court, well as much of it as was necessary to re-establish the government in Acre. Assisting her in this task was chaplain Humbert. Jaffa was too close to the enemy for Jean’s liking, not to mention plague infested and filled with discontents.
    In hindsight maybe Savary had not been the best person to talk down the mob.


    Allowing his wife’s eccentricities had in hindsight been in vain. Agnes’s belly remained stubbornly flat. If I die in this war, will they only remember me as Isabelle’s father? Would that be a fitting legacy, after all this, just a little girl’s father.


    After breakfast, Jean went over the plan with Alphonse and Savary one last time, for the sake of assurance.


    “Savary will take the men of Ashkelon and Deir al-Balah into the Sini to do what he does best. Burn and plunder every village between El Arish and Radwan. See to it that the local levies are annihilated before they link up with the main army. And make sure the Sultan will find no food, water or fodder for his troops.”


    20200221175012_1.jpg


    “I won’t let you down your grace.”


    “I will personally commend the men from Jaffa and strike against any enemy levies mustering near the Holy City. Alphonse will accompany me in this endeavor.”


    You’ve been following physician’s orders?”, Jean asked Alphonse.


    He nodded. “Yes your grace. I’m much too stubborn to let a silly thing like joint pain keep me from this one.”


    “Good. We’ll need every knight we can muster for this campaign.”


    “Perhaps this includes some of the dumb ones, or why else would we go over this plan half a hundred times?”, said Savary.


    The Sultan had subdued the Armenian rebels that September.


    .
    20200221152136_1.jpg



    His forces in Syria and the Kindom of Jerusalem’s former territories would now be free to concentrate against the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Jean needed to strike first and kill as many of them as possible, while staying close enough to Savary’s army so that either could reinforce the other if it proved necessary. In other words they either split up and allowed themselves to be defeated in detail, or they consolidated, and by implication allowed their enemy to consolidate, and were destroyed in one great battle.



    Of course things would change once the Kings of Europe arrived with their armies, and maybe even sooner than that, Jean had heard rumors that Emperor Henri had amassed an awe inspiring force to aid the crusade. Hence the delaying strategy. Still, the south of the Kingdom, the old County of Jaffa-Askelon was uniquely vulnerable, which was why Jean had moved the Court to Acre, and strengthened the city’s defenses.

    20200221174217_1.jpg

    With the men assembled for battle, and the Court embarked on wagons and headed for the ships, Jean finally had time to visit Agnes and Isabelle.


    They met by the gate, as the rest of the men said their farewells. Raymonde and Alphonse tenderly embraced, and for a time it seemed as if they intended never to part, though of course they did, each returning to their duties.


    Savary had spent almost all of his money to pay every whore he had ever slept with for one final “farewell party” the night before.


    “In ten years reckon half the pickpockets and whores in Jaffa will have my blood. It’s a legacy to make a man weep.” Jean had thought of giving Savary a castle and a wife after all was said and done. The thought of being Savary’s subjects, or worse, having your daughter be his wife, would be enough to keep any noble in line. But he had not decided yet. Savary’s wroth and greed were as troubling as his cruelty. As a soldier he could scarce object when Jean elevated Alphonse over him. As a lord, that would change.


    Agnes was dressed formally, but plainly, a garb more befitting the wife of a Knight than that of a king’s bride. Her demeanor was formal, ironically, quite regal. Little Isabelle bounced excitedly in the arms of a servant, one of the ones Bishop Guilhielm had bedded. Jean had wanted to dismiss her from service, along with all non Christians in the royal household, but Maria Komnenos had thought otherwise, both because such employment could guarantee the loyalty of their kin in the city, and because the Latin Nobility had grown attached to such creatures, and Jean could not afford to offend them more than he already had. Besides, those two girls in particular could provide valuable information, if used artfully.


    “I will miss you wife”, he declared formally.


    “I will pray for your success husband.” There was a pause.


    “Do you remember my instructions?”


    “Yes your grace. Once the Court is relocated to Acre I am to assume charge of the city. I am to see to the education of the Queen and send letters to my kin in Flanders and the Greek Empire, beseeching them to step up their efforts on this Crusade. I am also authorized to conduct all functions of state in your absence, though you will review my decisions and may…chastise me if you find them not to your liking.” She grimaced at that last bit.


    “Good. There is however the matter of your foremost duty.”


    Her cheeks were bright red, but she curtsied artfully. “Your grace, I waited for you in my chambers last night. I fear the hour may be inopportune, but if you wish it we can.”


    Jean waved her away. “No no, it’s too late for that. I mean do you know if you are with child already?”


    “That remains to be seen husband, you usually have to wait a span to know such things. Though if I knew I would of course tell you at once if I ever received such joyous news.” Jean did not doubt that.


    “That would be most pleasing to me.” There was silence between them. This might be the last time you ever see her.


    I know I was not your ideal choice of husband. I also know that you are a woman of ambition. I shall give you the same advice Maria Komnenos once gave to me. Use that ambition for Isabelle’s sake, and for the sake of any children we have together. Your rise will also be their’s. If I should perish, and if you should bear a son, take care of them both. Avenge my death and see to it that both of my children are placed upon their proper thrones. That is my final command to you as your husband. Go forth and fulfill your ambitions, for their sakes.”


    “I will do as your grace commands”, she said formally, but with slight smile across her face.


    He remembered the first time his father rode away to war, how his mother had put on a brave face for her children. Jean had caughter her crying that night. He thought back to when his brother and father had left. Jean was not some woman. He had wished them well and dutifully carried out his task as regent. But he still wondered what he had looked like again. Did either of them think they would never be seeing him again?


    “Might I hold her? My daughter, the Queen”, he asked bashfully.


    It took Agnes a few seconds to comprehend what she was hearing. “Of course your grace..” She stifled whatever else she was going to say. Isabelle, thrilled by the whole arrangement, squirmed with excitement as the servant girl passed her into his arms. What if I drop her. Then you will be the fool who killed two Queens of Jerusalem.


    “Papa! Papa! Papa’s going to give me god’s favorite city!” The girl exclaimed. She reached for his beard. “Your beard is very fluffy. Like a cat! ” She gasped and put a hand to her mouth. “Or like a prophet. Raymonde told me all the prophets had big bushy beards and were very old. And is that why god is giving you Jerusalem?” The Queen tugged at it, with little awareness of the etiquette expected of her rank and sex. Jean decided to allow it. Will this be all you remember of me little one? He laughed. “No little one, I am not a prophet, though I consider myself to be in possession of some wisdom, and I suppose I am old to you.” He thought of what would make her happy. Not secure her position, not sure up her power, but make her happy.


    “Do you know what a fair is little one?”


    She nodded her head slowly. He told her of the Champaign fairs of his home county. How every year merchants would come from all over Europe to sell their wares. Of how as a child he would run from stall to stall to see what exotic treasures were on offer. Of how he’d jousted and raced and completed so many feats of chivalry.


    “Champaign sounds like a fun place”, chirped Isabelle.


    “I really loved Champaign, it was my country.”


    She stoped tugging on his beard and reached out to hug him. “Did it feel scary leaving Champaign?”


    Jean looked to his wife. This might be the last time you see her. She might as well know.


    “It was a little scary yes”, he said, his voice almost a whisper, to keep any of the men from hearing him. He thought of his family’s ancestral lands in Briene, nominally held by his nephew. He thought of the regent of Champaign, Princess Blanka of Navvare. She had been fond of him. In another life he may have married her, and risen high in Champaign instead of Outremier. Why was he thinking of so many things that could not be?


    He thought he saw her smile, some sort of mutual recognition of experience.


    “Leaving Jaffa is scary. Even tho mama Agnes says I can ride in a boat, and that sounds really fun. It is still really scary.”


    Jean had spent most of his sea voyages bent over a railing. But she was a little girl, and he expected she would find the bumps and jolts of the ship more exciting than sickening.


    “Sailing on a boat is really fun. You should focus on that. And on your duty as Queen. That’s what I did. I thought about the Kingdom God wanted me to rule, and all the blessings he would give me.” He ran his hands through her hair. Italian black like her mother’s. And she had such a sweet little chubby face too. They also shared the same sweet nature, though the little girl was much more lively. Maria would have loved her so much. She’d probably be with child again by now, perhaps a son. She had been full hipped and fertile, and when they were together he knew she let him know he was pleasing her. Unlike his current wife. It is useless to think of things that are forever passed.


    “You also thought about mama Maria a lot. Raymonde says she was a Queen like me, and that she was very pretty and kind.”


    He laughed. “Yes, yes she was that.” For all he obsessed over her memory, Jean realized he hadn’t thought about her that much at all while she was still alive. Maybe that was why god had taken her from him. But Isabelle was just a baby and still thought marriages were made via tower rescue. It is shameful you ever thought that way, the poor girl gave her life to bring your child into the world. Jean’s thoughts were far too morbid for his liking.


    He gave her a kiss on her head and one last tight hug before handing her off to Agnes, who still seemed a bit shocked by the whole thing. “Now you be be a good girl and remember God is watching you. Listen to your stepmother and Raymonde, and all the other servants who take care of you. Do that, and god will smile down upon you and grant us victory.”


    Her face lit up. “Yes, I will. I’ll be so good god will give me Jerusalem, Eden, and all the honey bread in the world! And then I’ll grow up to be a knight and ride off to slay dragons with you papa!”


    Husband and wife both shared a laugh at the absurdity of the idea


    They left and Jean returned to his men. He led them forward with a familiar war cry.

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    Interlude 4: Cyprus
    October 1213

    King Hugh of Cyprus smiled. “It’s quite a surprise to see you out here.”


    The warm sea wind blew through his lady’s hair as he reached out to embrace her. She smiled at him. “It wasn’t because I missed you. It wasn’t because I wanted to see your face one more time. It is the duty of a Queen to see her king off to war, no matter her condition or the difficulty she encounters. And besides, I think the ocean air will do us some good good.”


    She patted the great swell of her belly. She shouldn’t have been out of bed, let alone this far from Nicosia, in her condition. Yet he could not find it in his heart to be angry at his Queen, or their Princess sister, who had no doubt helped concoct the whole scheme.


    Hugh smiled and embraced her, instinctively putting a hand on her back to help her stay up. “So you only do this out of duty huh?” Alix smiled and kissed him. “Yes of course, I find you so stupid.” She put a hand on his cheek, looked deep into his eyes and smiled. “My stupid spendthrift sweet hayhead king.”


    That was the name she had taken to calling him after he’d had himself crowned in a barn by a humble priest, in his armor as opposed to robes, and in the humble company of his soldiers. Hugh had thought it the godly, and cheap, thing to do, Alix had thought it the stupid thing to do. The name hayhead had come as an insult, but over time morphed into a term of endearment.



    KIng Hughes was crowned in a barn cropped.jpg



    They had started off resenting one another. Alix was the daughter of Queen Isabelle the first of Jerusalem and her second husband, Henri of Champaign. Alix’s father and Hugh’s mother died within a year of one another and she and Hugh’s father, Aimery of Lusigion, had wed in the interest of state. But Aimery’s children, could not help but resent their father for leaving them on Cyprus whilst he spent all his time in Jerusalem with his new family. In hindsight this estrangement had probably helped his marriage.


    Hughes’s only living full blooded sibling was off in Epirus, something he regretted. The whole scheme had been a Venetian idea to fashion an alliance of powers to control the sea routs between Europe and the Crusader states. Also, while he loved his sister, Hughes was aware of her flaws. It would have been only a matter of time before she dishonored herself with a squire. She had not appreciated that sentiment, and the two had quarreled ferociously before the marriage.


    Helvis de Lusingion.jpg




    Alas Emperor Henri had attacked Epirus first, in revenge for past slights, and Venice had refused to come to her aid. Thankfully Helvis’s imprisonment had been brief. The two of them had been friends in addition to being brother and sister, and he wanted he to give him a reassuring punch on the arm at a time like this. At least she had sent him a letter conveying her continued friendship. Though even that brought grim tidings, Epirus was once again, united with other Orthodox realms to defend the Empire of Nicea’s territory from Seljuk invasion.

    20200718173419_1.jpg


    Could it be a scheme to trap the Crusader Army in Anatolia? Regardless, it wasn’t of immediate concern to Hughes.


    The second part of his grand design, the part he intended to carry out with our without Venice, would be wedding the little Prince growing in Alix’s belly to Isabelle to unite Cyprus and Jerusalem. Hughes felt certain her father, would try to keep Isabelle under his thumb as long as possible, in order to use her and her kingdom as a puppet to fulfill his own ambitions. The two had met only once, at their joint wedding. They had not gotten along. Jean had been furious over the firing of his thieving Uncle, Hughes’s former regent and brother in law, Gauthier de Montfaucon. Hughes had tried to explain to the man that Garunthier was an unjust craven and a thief, who had been an unworthy husband of his own late beloved sister Bourgone.


    20200718174059_1.jpg


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    Alas the regent would brook no insult to his kinsman. And when god finally dragged Gauthier off to hell, Jean had his children sent all the way back to their relatives in Europe, instead of Cyprus, which had been their home their entire lives. He put these grand matters out of his head. Hughes would not let Jean of Briene ruin this day for him.


    20200718174950_1.jpg


    His half sister, Melesinde, was farther back along the dock, looking away and trying to pretend she hadn’t seen Alix and Hughes kiss and swoon over one another.


    Alix turned to her sister and laughed.


    “Oh so when some singer talks about kissing his love you swoon but when I embrace my dear husband you look set to vomit.” She shook her head. “Youth”. You are seventeen my love, I am nineteen. They had both had to grow up fast. Melesidne still had some childishness left in her. It annoyed both Hughes and Alix, but they couldn’t help but treasure this part of her nature. It would likely not be around much longer, and Melesinde herself seemed eager to grow up. The reality of that made him want to clutch them both to him to keep them safe. He had lost five siblings, his mother, and his father. He didn’t want to loose anyone else.


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    “Melesinde come here.” Hughes opened his arms for a hug. All the girl’s pretend adolescent cynicism fell away as she ran to him, distinctly un lady like. Sometimes the girl’s antics drove him to near madness. Today though she would go unpunished.


    She leaped into his arms, sending him stumbling back a few paces. “Easy there, don’t you almost pushed both of us into sea. Now promise to be a good girl and not give the Queen any trouble.” Hughes and Alix had, at different times told her to refer to only one of them as her sibling and the other as the King or Queen, when the two of them were together. Neither relished the reminder that they were step siblings. Papal dispensation or no, it was an unpleasant reality they did their best to avoid being confronted with.


    “I promise”, she said, sniffling.


    “Good.” He walked back to Alix and rested his hand protectively over her belly. “Are you sure your okay. I will order Spymaster Hélie to make you as comfortable as can be. More so in fact. If so much as a tiny lump on your mattress makes it hard for you to sleep, if your breakfast isn’t cooked just the way you like it, if one tiny thing happens to upset you or make you unhappy, tell me and I’ll put his head on a pike.” He wouldn’t literally threaten to do that to the man, but he would get the idea across. Hughes had something of a temper, which he tried his best to keep under control. He would make it clear to the mayor that if so much as a hair on his wife, or the child she carried was hurt he would severely punish anyone found responsible.


    Alix smiled at him. “I talked with the Mayor Hélie. He was very courteous and kind. I will have no trouble with him, nor with any of your other councilors. As I said, I really do think the sea air will do both of us good. I couldn’t stand being cooped up in my room. I confess to being envious of you husband, and my sister Melesinde. You can run and jump and fight all you want. Meanwhile all I can do is lie in bed or waddle about. Our little Prince loves to taunt me on this by kicking and tumbling inside me all day long. If I must suffer so, I would at least like to do it with a good view of the ocean and fresh fish for dinner every night.”

    1st of July Queen Alix is having a difficult pregnancy..jpg

    2nd of October Queen Alix is relaxing.jpg
    20200221174642_1.jpg


    He tenderly brushed a flowing string of her hair and grinned. “Promise me you will take care of the Kingdom.”


    She laughed. “Drat, I was going to raid the royal treasury and spend it all on dresses.”


    “Buy all the dresses you like my love. You would be beautiful in anything, even dirty rags, but I know dresses make you happy, and that makes me happy.”


    She gave him another kiss. “As my love commands.”


    “If our child is a boy name him after my father. He was the greatest King Outremaier saw since the days of Godefroy de Boulogne.


    “What if I named him after you? As a cautionary tale of course, a warning not to waste so much money.”


    “Well we all have our faults. I confess to caring so much for the sake of my family and Kingdom that I watch over every source of income so that I can acquire enough riches to spend to make them happy.”


    “You spend an awful lot, and often quite unwisely.”


    He felt the kick of their child as he kissed her. “And are you not the happiest you’ve ever been?”


    “Drat, now you’ve got me.”


    “Of course I do.” There arms slipped apart and the King turned towards his ship.


    “But if I should bear a daughter, what of it then”, she sounded almost upset, like that would make them go back to the way things were before. “Then we’ll love her and treasure her and turn her into the most spoiled Princess in Christendom.”


    Alix laughed. “And take that honor from my dear sister Melesinde? I think not.”


    They laughed, though Melesinde crossed her arms and made an exaggerated pout.


    Alix spoke again. “But what shall we name her.”


    Hughes thought for a time. “Name her Eschive, after my mother, I didn’t know her very well, but my brothers and sisters told me of how devoted she was to her husband and children. I would hate to have your mother’s name be the only one that carried down through the generations.”


    “Of course my love. And Hughes”


    “Yes.”


    “Please Please Please, for the love you bear all of us, don’t get yourself killed. I don’t think my heart can bear to loose anyone else.”
     
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    Chapter 10: December 1213
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    The Humbled Count
    December 1213

    There was proving to be quite a lot of blood in this hunt that was supposed to celebrate peace. The stag had struggled mightily, and taken quite a few hounds with it. But in the end it had fallen, an apt metaphor for Raymond’s situation if there ever was one.
    20200727163953_1.jpg

    This wasn’t just any hunt, it was important, a matter of state. The type of thing Raymond had spent his whole life learning at his father’s feet. He had thought himself a skilled student. Yet everything in his reign had been a failure.


    His first act had been to follow his father’s will and divide the realm between himself and his brothers, releasing Bohemond and Henri from their oaths of fealty. Philippe would have been let go as well, that had been the plan, split the principality in half, but Bohemond had let it be known that he intended to cede his brother’s lands to the Armenians, to negotiate peace with the house that had been trying to subjugate Antioch for as long as all of them had been alive. Raymond would not allow his father’s death to have been in vain, and so persuaded Phillipe to side with him in one last heroic gamble to maintain the sovereignty of the House of Poltiers. Alas it had all come to nothing.

    20200221174600_1.jpg


    “I told you we would bag the thing if we just kept at it”, declared Prince Ivane, the low born husband of King Levon’s only daughter. He had been a brilliant strategist, one of Levon’s best commanders and a thorn in the side of the House of Poltiers for years. Once Raymond would have gladly cut him down. But they were at peace now.

    20200727122507_1.jpg

    “Your persistence is one of the many things I love about you. That and your infinite patience, which I am sure I have tested many times”, Rita declared to her husband.


    “You are a magnificent woman my love. You are beautiful, intelligent and noble and I owe everything I am to you. Surely our lords of Cilicia see this and will give you their fealty, and our Count of Tripoli and Prince of Antioch will keep to their pledges of peace.” These Armenians are not subtle.


    His younger bother Philippe spoke first. “I have already pledged my service to your father my lady. I pledge to serve you as well. I will be your liege man and follow you to the ends of the earth.”


    Phillipe had quickly gotten over any anger he had felt at being forced to submit over to a foreign monarch and was now worming his way into the good graces of the Armenian King Levon, and his daughter, the unnatural Princess Rita.


    (Picture).


    It was like watching a puppy toddle after it’s owner. Their father would roll in his grave watching his son debase himself in such a manner.


    That woman drove him mad.


    Most women did, his own mother had remained with unseemly rapidity after their father’s death, and to his uncle Manuel at that. Who, taking after his Greek namesake, seemed to be able to peel the cloths off the servant girls with but a glance of his eyes.
    20200727164014_1.jpg

    20200727164009_1.jpg




    But this thing, this woman, she aspired to rule in her own right, and not just transmit the right to rule to her husband or children. And the worse part was that she did all of it brilliantly. She danced around in men’s armor, gave speeches upon horse back, twirled around in skirts and blew kisses at the assembled knights and lords, and they loved her for it. How a creature like this could be a part of god’s plan, let alone desirable, was beyond him. It was like she’d cast some sort of spell that only he was immune to. Why can’t I have magic like that. Raymond cleared his head of the heretical thought.


    The rest of the Armenian Nobles followed, swearing to elevate Rita to Queenship upon the death of her father. His younger brother Bohemond, with their youngest brother Henri by his side, raised a cheer to that, and to the eternal peace between the House of Poltiers and the Kingdom of Armenia. Raymond curtly agreed and then ordered the stag’s corpse to be taken back to camp with the hunting party.


    “A valiant opponent. May hunters find his like again.”, said King Levon.



    They drank and reveled upon their return to camp. Raymond did his duty, conversing amiably with Armenian nobles as well as his own knights and vassals, most notably the new Baron of Byblos.


    20200727135150_1.jpg

    The lower ranking knights were the most drawn to him. This was not surprising. While his father had always praised his negotiating skills, Raymond found he lacked his brother’s gregarious temperament. He did however try to share in his men’s hardships. And for that they were grateful.


    He found himself thinking of Pernelle, the pious daughter of a knight who had accompanied her father when he had fought for him against the Emirate of Damascus. The man had been wounded and Raymond had come across her tending to him. He had died and she had nowhere else to go, so he took her into his service. Most other knights would have done something with her, she probably suspected he would. But he had been motivated by simple Christian charity. As the situation had gotten worse and worse, she had provided a shoulder to cry on. How he wished he had her with him now.



    He had done his duty to god. Sacrificed his honor, and that of his family to fight the Crusade against the true enemy of all Christians. So why did he feel so wretched about himself?


    That night, as he prepared for bed, a servant informed him that King Levon wanted to meet with him in private. He was tempted to turn the man away. The King had taken his brother and a county, the least he could leave Raymond was his rest. But then it might have been some important matter.


    King Levon opened the flap of his tent and stepped in. He was a thin faced man with a full head of grey hair and a surprisingly robust body for a man of his age.


    “Is there anything I can do for you, your grace”, he said as coldly as the desert night.


    “You could share a drink with me. We drank once before when we pledged peace, but we were surrounded by courtiers and kin. That made it hard to speak honestly, though we both pledged to do so.”


    “I never accused you of lying”, Raymond said defensively.


    “Nor I you. But there is a great difference between being honest and lying. I am not saying these formal agreements are not important. They let our subjects know our quarrels are done. But personally, I have wanted to talk to you alone, man to man.”


    “About what exactly?” Could he be intending to attach some sort of retroactive secret condition to the peace?


    “For a start, the fact you hate despise me and my kin.” He held up a hand. “Save the explanations count, it’s been written all over your face since the day we met. Nor do I blame you. Our houses have clashed for decades. We try to keep it impersonal, but that is hard when it comes to family. Many in Armenia believe your father usurped my grandnephew, and no doubt many in Tripoli hate us for the tragic fate of the Baron of Byblos.”


    (Picture of House elf Poltiers family tree.).


    Raymond struggled to keep his calm. “It would be hard to forget the death of my brother in law.”


    20200727135203_1.jpg



    Actually most of the family felt little grief at the death of Baron Guido, who had been a prideful, slippery character. Even the man’s own widow, Raymond’s sister Marie, seemed more worried that her next husband might be some hedonist who would place to many demands on her, than actually sad about the Baron’s death. But it did not erase the humiliation Raymond felt at failing to avenge his most powerful vassal.


    “Yes of course. Though you must believe me, we had no intention of causing his demise.”


    Raymond smirked. “These sorts of things tend to happen in dungeons. I have already accepted your apology, and have pledged to press your grandnephew’s claim to his lands in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in exchange for his accepting me and my brother’s continued rule of Antioch and Tripoli. What more do you want?”


    “Is it too much to ask for you to give an old man a chance to sit down with a worthy adversary?”


    Raymond raised an eyebrow. “You view me as such?”


    “Well of course?”


    “Why? You defeated me. You took my city and burned my towns and forced me to cede part of my family’s patrimony. It wasn’t even close.”


    “I, a King with six decades of life under his belt, with an army thrice your size of yours defeated you, a count, who had barely grown to manhood, and who was also fighting another enemy. Truly I am shocked.”


    “You took a county from me.” Why am I so desperately avoiding accepting this compliment?


    “Aye, and kept your younger brother as lord.”


    They heard a woman’s scream. Raymond tensed for action, but as his ear adjusted to the sound, it seemed different from someone in distress. And the woman’s calls to the divine didn’t seem like they were a request for aid. And he could vaguely make out the name Ivane, along with some Armenian words that sounded like either curses or cries of encouragement.


    Raymond winced, his ears reddening. “Ah um, I think she will be ok. I think I mean I’m certainly no expect on these sorts of things.” Oh lord I sound like such a child.


    Levon threw back his head and downed his cup of wine in one shot.


    “I was the ideal king in all things but one. I put my wife aside and at one point intended to remarry. But alas I never found there right woman. I had pinned my last hopes on your brother Bohemond’s wife Sybille, so there’s an area where your family managed to defeat me. I suppose Rita should give thanks to the houses of Poltiers and Lusingion for robbing her of a little brother. Plus he still holds Antioch, which I coveted for years.”


    “Your daughter is a um remarkable woman.”


    The look on the King’s face reminded him who had won the war. “If my daughter were but a man she would posses every virtue befitting a monarch.”


    Raymond grinned. “Chastity is also seen as a virtue is it not?” Raymond regretted those words as soon as they left his mouth. It was the dam wine talking.


    The King though, took it in surprisingly good stride, perhaps he was too near the grave to care for such things anymore. Levon chuckled like a grandfather about to dispense wisdom to a small child. “By the church maybe, but come now, I thought you wise in the ways of the world. If I had shown more enthusiasm for my conjugal duties I might have four sons instead of only one daughter.”


    “I guess father had you beat in that.”
    The Death of Bohemond the third.jpg




    Levon chuckled. “That he did.” Raymond couldn’t help but warm to the man. This must be the impression Bohemond elicited in others. If only I could replicate it.


    “I will warn you and your brothers, my Rita is not to be underestimated. She may be overly enthusiastic in her duties, but she is loyal to her husband, and not a harlot whose favor can be bought by comely looks, unlike what some lords might thing.” The King had a stern look upon his face.


    Raymond found himself compelled to explain his poor little brother’s conduct. “It is just a child’s fancy, with my brother I mean.”


    “I know, which is why we treat it as such. Honestly I am the most offended at this. Rita thinks of him like an adorable puppy running at her heels while Ivane just thinks it is good to have a loyal vassal.”


    “My brother is a good lad. I don’t believe you will have a problem with him, so long as his rights to his county are respected.”


    “Well I won’t be around much longer so that won’t be much of an accomplishment. Still, I see your point. Rita and Ivane will be good to any loyal lord. Unlike those dammed Hetoumi.”


    He gulped down the wine.


    “It’s probably for the best that I never re-married. I will not live to see a son grow to manhood. Frankly I doubt I’d be able to father a child at this point and in any case, whose to say it wouldn’t be a girl. Even if it was a boy, if I were to choose between a regency for a child and the rule of a capable woman, I would choose Rita every time. The lower ranks adore her and her husband. That Ivane’s a good soldier. From the lower nobility, so he took her name upon their marriage. My family name will live on to another generation.”


    The King seemed weary. “You seem to have doubts about the way things have gone.”


    The King smiled. “Did I ever deny that?”


    “I’m just curious as to why you show them to me?”


    The King looked right into Raymond’s eyes, like he was searching for a reflection. Whose, the Count did not know. “Perhaps I see a little of my old self in you, Armenian politics after all are not exactly pleasant. Perhaps I don’t want to intrude on my daughter and son in law’s happiness by reminding them of my mortality. Perhaps I realize you will not be able to act on the information. After all, you are too committed to this Crusade of yours to act against me. Your brother Philippe seems like the loyal sort, unlike those dammed Hethemids.”


    Raymond thought he understood the King, or at least knew him better than he had before. “And you want your realm to be at peace so your daughter can suppress any threats to the succession.”


    “Exactly. I will not have my girl face the same turmoil I did, not if I can help it anyways. That leads to the second way you beat me. I had wanted to install my grandnephew, Raimond-Roupen in Tripoli, maybe Antioch as well. But you dragged out the war so long that I ran out of time. I couldn’t take the risk of the fighting still going on when I died. Your family knows better than anyone how long I’ve lusted after that city, more so than I’ve ever gone after a woman. And yet your brother managed to talk me out of it.”


    Raymond scowled. “Quite the charmer that one.”


    The king chuckled. “Oh I know that feeling all to well. You want my advice. cooperate with your brother. He has a fine head on his shoulders. Me and my older brother worked together for years.”


    “Until you took advantage of his capture to overthrow him.”


    “He recognized I was the one most suited to protecting the family’s interests. In any case you make it sound as if I threw him in a dungeon and tossed the key. He left to live in a monastery, where he had a good life, close to god. Sometimes I wish I had done something like that. But then I think not. Life sitting around brooding over old scrolls would be just too boring, even for men of god like you or I, don’t you agree Count Raymond?”


    Raymond sighed. “I guess you could say that.”


    “Splendid Splendid. I’ll leave you to your rest. Take care my young lord. The road ahead will be long and arduous and may lead to unexpected places.”


    The next day the hunting party returned to Antioch for one last night of feasting and revelry. In the morning they would be bidding the city farewell. As usual Bohemond led the merrymaking with his charming japes and childish sense of fun.


    Raymond led toasts to the gallantry of those who had fallen in defense of Tripoli. Princess Rita would always join in with her own toasts to the glory of Cilicia, which Philip would join in too enthusiastically for Raymond’s liking, though he grudgingly admitted it was proper for his new role.


    Even Princess Sybille, so long confined to bed because of an illness and a difficult pregnancy showed up, her face pale and wane, though she smiled and shown under the attention of her husband and of her mother in law. She danced with each of the Poltiers brothers and with King Levon, who was especially gentle, inquiring after her health, and wishing her and Bohemond the greatest happiness.

    20200221174116_1.jpg



    The next day they departed. King Levon was returning to his kingdom, while Bohemond and Raymond would lead their troops south for the Crusade.


    Along the march, Raymond made an effort to get closer to his brother.

    20200727163959_1.jpg


    Bohemond explained his plan, to serve as a buffer between Tripoli and Cilicia while giving their cousin his lands in Jerusalem back, he hoped to forestall any continued conflict between Raymond and Levon.


    “Young Roupen may wish to take the field against us, but his lands are too vital to the defense of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. His overlords would restrain him.”


    Raymond shook his head. “It was the price of peace no doubt, but I don’t think it will put a stop to his ambitions. In any case what would happen if he wed the little Queen of Jerusalem. I have heard rumors of such plans.”


    Bohemond shrugged dramatically. “Who knows this early? My spymaster has sent me rumors from all over. Some say the King sent his Chancellor to France to betroth her to one of the Kings bastards. My wife says her sister Alix hopes to wed her unborn son to the Princess. And a spy of mine says there's some strange warlord of unknown religion pressing the Saracens from the east.”


    Mongol arival.jpg


    “Maybe Jean of Briene is desperate enough to give his daughter to a horse lord. The point is we can never be one hundred percent sure of what the future will bring.”


    Raymond smiled in spite of himself. His brother may have “betrayed” him, debased the family name, but he was still bright little Bohdmond, and Raymond couldn’t help but love him. “Look at you being all mature. Giving speeches about the long term perspective, calling a kinsman barely a year younger than yourself a boy. And you’re to be a father as well. It seems treaties weren’t the only thing you were working on while I was warring.”


    Bohemond watched him for a bit, like he was trying to determine if his brother’s lightheartedness was a prelude to another rant about betrayal and duty to the house of Poltiers.


    “My wife worries. She thinks I pushed her to hard. She’s hardly older than a child herself, she doesn’t think herself ready for the responsibilities of being a mother, or the wife of a Prince. Frankly I worry too some days. Do you think I’m in over my head brother.”


    Raymond remembered his conversation with the old King and chuckled. “You know I think all Princes are drowning. It’s just some managed to claw onto the driftwood better than others.”


    Bohemond laughed. “Well then lets go off and throw some Saracens in the water.”


    He also kept Perenelle with him. She had decided to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and he had decided to let her have her old job back. “For old times sake”, he explained to her. “My father’s only been dead a few months and already it feels like forever ago”, she had told him back. They both had experience in grief. He told her he knew how she felt. In turn she tried to comfort him about his decision to end the war. For some reason it meant more to him than the words of his bothers or the King of Armenia.


    As the army journeyed further south they heard news from both Armenia, Jerusalem, and Europe..


    Balian of Sidon had defeated Egyptian forces at Belinas and was besieging Touron, along with the Templars and Hospitallers. The rest of the royal army was raiding south with the regent.


    From the north, a herald brought word that King Levon had died and that his daughter Rita was with child, apparently having announced this to him and the Armenian nobility as he was on his deathbed.
    20200221181520_1 King levon death.jpg

    20200221181520_1.jpg

    Raymond couldn’t help but smile that the old man had died knowing his dynasty would continue. Rita and her husband would journey back to Cilicia as quickly as possible, to ward off any rival claimants. So any remaining Armenian threat to Antioch and Tripoli was neutralized for the time being.


    Raymond couldn’t help but be disappointed that he would never see the old King again. Though he was happy the man had died well. He recognized the meaning of the old saying that men were made by the quality of their enemies.

    From all over Europe, armies rallied to the cross. Though one famous Crusader was sitting out the war, due to having to deal with a heretical rebellion at home.
    20200221183834_1.jpg


    20200221182325_1.jpg


    The army approached the walls of Damascus, after raiding through the countryside of Bequa.

    20200719122729_1.jpg


    A siege line was established and the Poltiers brothers sent word that they wished to parley. They were met by the Wali of Beqaa, who had abandoned his own lands to act as his lord’s regent. Courtesies were exchanged and Bohemond made his offer.
    21st December, Emir Wasil accepts Duke Raimond's peace offer..jpg

    “My lord, I am aware we are of different religions. Ours is right and yours is wrong but alas you will not believe what we say. You have your duty to your lord as we have a duty to ours, so alas peace is not possible. However, I would just like to let you know that should your forces ever march against my brother’s lands in Tripoli, I will send your lord back to you, via Trebuchet.”


    Raymond’s men then brought out the bound and gaged Emir of Damascus. The man’s hunched stance gave no hint of pride or defiance.

    Sure enough they gave in.
    21st December, Emir Wasil accepts Duke Raimond's peace offer. coppy.jpg


    As the army marched on to Toron Bohemond rode up beside him. “Congratulations brother we’ve won our first war. How does it feel?”


    Raymond thought of all the dead soldiers and knights on battlefields. Of the tears in Pernelle’s eyes as she watched her father die, of the ruined villages of Tripoli. Of his own deep grief at the loss of his father. “It feels complete, bother.”
     

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    Chapter 11 January 1214
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    The Regent

    January 1214

    1


    “How in the name of god’s shriveled ball sack has it come to this?” Savary lay on a bed, dressed in soiled rags and coughing up blood.


    “Our forces ventured too far north, we were unable to to reinforce you”, said Alphonse.


    “No, you would just have died alongside the rest of the men. The defeat was my fault. I stayed put because I wanted to take all the loot we collected with us.” Savary let out another spamming cough. “That and I was too fucking sick to think clearly.”

    20200802105722_1.jpg



    Jean paced around the room saying nothing, feeling the worry lines on his forehead. The war had been going so well. His armies had won four victories against the Sultan’s scattered levies.
    20200221205517_1.jpg


    Balian of Sidon’s forces in the north had won at Belinus and were beginning to besiege Toron.

    20200221180420_1.jpg


    Meanwhile, in quick time Jean and Alphonse had completed Richard the Lionheart’s march to Jerusalem and defeated the small Saracen force mustering at Ramala to oppose them.


    Jean had been so jubilant that he and his men had ridden past the walls of the Holy city with the captured standards in their hands, dodging arrow fire all the while. Giddy with triumph, he told Alphonse of his plans to raise him to Duke of Outerjordan.

    20200221181625_1.jpg

    Savary was pillaging the countryside around Rafah, scattering the small local militia sent to oppose him. He had wanted to go further into Egypt, but Jean had sent a message back ordering him to stay where he was and watch for any Egyptian force approaching Jaffa-Askelon.
    20200221181452_1.jpg

    Meanwhile Jean had received word of an enemy force mustering in the old Ibelin county of Nablus. He and Alphonse had confronted and defeated it with ease.
    4th of December Savary makes contact with larger Egyptian army, Khalida is pregnant,.jpg

    But as they celebrated the news they received a grave message from Savary. His forces were being approached by an army of Egyptians over eight times it’s size. Jean had raced back south, but he had been too late.
    20200221183514_1.jpg

    A knock came at the door. “Who is it”, said Jean.

    “A messenger sir", said the guard. "He says he brings news from the King of Cyprus.”
    About fucking time. “Bid him enter.”
    The guard obeyed and the messenger, a man at arms bearing the Lusingion coat of arms, entered.
    “Your Grace, King Hughes is honored to receive a message from a knight as distinguished as yourself. He commands your heroic efforts in defending the south of your realm. However, he believes that confronting the Caliph’s forces in Jaffa Askelon would be a mistake. They are far closer to home and reinforcements and would outnumber our combined forces by roughly two to one. Therefore he is moving his army to the north to link up with Balian of Sidon, the Holy orders, and the men from Antioch and Tripoli. He suggests that you do the same.”
    Jean thanked the messenger and sent him on his way. Hughes would miss his rendezvous. Jean had ordered Sidon to either storm Toron or lift the siege, and then immediately head south to reinforce his army. If Hughes had only obeyed Jean's summons, they would have had a fighting chance. But the youth was too proud and stupid to listen to his elders and now they had no choice but to run.


    Siege of Touron December 20th.jpg



    “That fucker!”, exclaimed Savary. “I take back what I said earlier. I was not responsible for the defeat. He was. If that little shit of a king had disembarked his army in Jaffa or Askelon and marched to meet me, we could have won the thing. Instead he lands off Caesarea, doesn’t bother to attack the city, and heads north. Did a horse kick him in the head or something?”

    Alphonse struck a thoughtful pose. “I don’t think so. I have never heard the King’s intelligence being described as anything worse than average. However our defeat does serve his interests. If Jean were to die Jerusalem would have need of a new regent. They might turn to Ibelin, or they might turn to Hughes, whose wife has a claim to the throne, and who happens to have 4,000 swords at his command. That tends to make one persuasive. The reign of his father Aimery is fondly remembered, and both my wife and the Count of Beirut have told me that many in the High Court wished to see the union with Cyprus continue.”


    Jean’s blood broiled as he took in the information.


    “If he has some decency he will let the Queen retain a high ranking tittle. Maybe Duchess of Acre or Countess of Jaffa-Askelon. Should Alix give him a boy, he may wed him to Isabelle to unite the claims. Of course if he’s inclined towards wickedness…”


    Alphonse paused, no doubt thinking of his own precious son, safe behind the walls of Acre. “Little children die all the time, from sickness-”


    “Or falls from high ledges”, added Savary.


    Jean thought back to when he had met the young King of Cyprus. The two had shared a wedding day, each marking a daughter of the first Queen Isabelle of Jerusalem. They had not gotten along. The quasi incestuous nature of Hughes marriage, even if the Pope had given his blessings, had sickened him. But even worse the King, in the words of Savary, had suffered from the unfortunate ailment of being an insufferable little shit.


    He’d refused to reward Jean’s Uncle Garuntheir for his service as regent and instead dismissed him. Jean had demanded to know his reasons and the King had spewed some lies about his Uncle being a thief and a craven. If he could so easily disown one brother in law, why wouldn’t he turn on another?


    And then at the wedding feast, his speech had been the bastard born abomination of meekness and braggadocio. He’d gone on and on about the illustrious heritage of is father and the wealth of Cyprus, all the while talking about how those things were an honor and about how he wasn’t worthy of them and how he thanked god every day for his blessings. The priests were praising his piety, swooning after him like a bunch of smitten girls.


    He’d also praised the beauty of both sisters too much for Jean’s liking. Not that he’d been jealous of the sixteen year old king, or thought that his wife would prefer to have him for a husband or anything like that. Nor did he envy the fact that Hughes was a “real” king, while Jean only ruled by right of his wife. And he, Jean of Briene, a forty two year old man, certainly hadn’t spent the entire trip up the coast of Tyre for their coronation brooding and wondering if his wife and her sisters, who rode together and gossiped every day, weren’t making fun of him behind his back. Such things were beneath the dignity of a knight of Champaign. No, Hugh had nothing for Jean to envy. Nothing at all.


    “That man will get Jerusalem over my dead body!”, Jean declared loudly.


    “I believe that was his plan”, snarked Savary.
    20200221184815_1.jpg

    “Oh shut up you”, Jean said warmly. As if bantering like it was old times would bring those happy days back.


    Savary seemed ready to retaliate with one of his usual witty retorts, but was interrupted by another eruption of coughing.


    Savary waved off any attempts to help him.


    “Well if you two hope to get out of here in time your going to have to work with the man I’ve been telling you about.”


    “No.”


    “Look I don’t like this any more than you do, but we don’t have a choice. He’s proven to be a more useful ruler of this city than the dammed mayor, and men in his employ saved my wretched life after (name of battle.)”


    “He could save the life of a bloody saint for all I care. I won’t subject this Crusade to the wrath of god by taking on a….a…

    20200221183635_1.jpg

    “I believe the word your looking for is Jew”, Savary added helpfully.


    “To put one of them at the head of an army of Christians fighting in the name of god, it would be a travesty. The men would mutiny! God would forsake our cause.” God would forsake me.


    “And that’s assuming he doesn’t betray us before that. This man is not of our faith and has no reason to love us. He commanded a band of outlaws and thugs who defied our rule. I am told he is hated even by the headmen of his own community.” It was like Alphonse to share his master’s objections, but be more diplomatic in expressing them.


    “A man after my own heart”, snarked Savory.


    “We’ve known you for years. We trust you”, said Alphonse.


    “I’m touched, really. And if you trust me so much, then trust my judgement on this. You need this fucker, and he’s willing to work with us. His men control the docks. We can hack them down, but then we’d lack the men to man the ships. So then I guess you’ve have to face the Sultan’s army in Jaffa. I doubt you find that an appealing prospect.”


    “Then fight we shall. Accepting his offer would be a humiliation. An embarrassment we’d never be able to recover from.”


    “Better that than dead. And you would be far from the first Christians to make alliances with heathens.” Savary’s voice was horse and frantic. He was desperate to make Jean understand his point, but the regent would not back down.


    “We will be the first to make alliances with a common born heathen, and to give him a commanding role in our army.”


    “Oh for fucks sake! You and I both know a large portion of our army is made up of Muslim mercenaries or Eastern Christians. And half the Latins have less piety than a whore attending confession. Knights are a prideful lot I know, so just don’t have him give orders to any knights.” Savary managed to get the words out just before another coughing fit claimed him.


    Alphonse shook his head and looked long and hard at his friend. His expression was one of concern. “Savary, you are making an awful lot of sense lately. To be honest that scares me, more than you usually do. Is it really that bad?”


    Savary smiled like a worn out knife. “I’m a dying man. Maybe that’s what changed me. Don’t try to reassure me. I know that in a fortnight I will be as much of a bloated corpse as the Bishop Guilhielm.”

    20200804102114_1.jpg

    Jean had thrown the man in the dungeon and forgotten about his existence. As it turns out he had passed some months ago. The guards had only discovered his corpse after the stench became too repugnant even for a dungeon.


    “My lord, with all due respect, I’m about to die in your service having accomplished almost nothing lasting, and having been given little reward. Please at least meet with the man, think of it as my last request.”


    Jean thought back to his days as a knight, the years he had fought beside Savary and Alphonse. How the knight had stuck with him in the Holy Land even after almost all the others deserted him.


    “Alphonse, make the arrangements with the man’s representatives. I’ll hear what he has to say.” That didn’t mean he had to like it though.


    2


    The meeting took place the next day in the council chambers. Their guest was an ugly man, not surprising given his occupation. Yet his cloths were clean, and he carried himself with the demeanor of a man who knew how to conduct himself in a place of power. At the very least Hallel had the courtesy to kneel before addressing his betters.


    Jean bid him rise.”


    “I’m told you’ve caused the mayor quite a bit of trouble.” That would be an understatement. The whole southern half of the kingdom had been in turmoil thanks to the outbreak. The war, and the return of the Court to Acre, had only stirred things up further, while depriving the area of the men necessary to maintain order. Hallel had been some sort of bruiser in Jaffa, the leader of a gang that was said to be comprised of the scum of every tribe and religion in the Holy Land. The mayor had tried to crack down by impaling a few cutpurses, but that had only made them angrier. By the time Jean had returned, they only controlled the walls and the citadel. The rest of the town was Hallel’s dominion.


    20200801125745_1.jpg



    The ugly man chuckled. “I’d call him a half wit, but then I’d say he has only about a third of a wit. It’s why he had to resort to impalement to deter my men. He didn’t have the wits to thwart us nor the strength to compel obedience.”


    Jean grimaced. “It is bold for a heretic to sit in my presence and insult my representatives.”


    Halel kneeled. “Forgive me. I meant you no offense. He is the representative of the Burghers of this town. And so insignificant you have no doubt hardly bothered to trouble yourself with him, save for now, when you view his failures as an obstacle towards your victory in this Crusade. You have no need to worry my good sir. He was mayor before you showed up, so his failures bring no dishonor upon your person. Besides, we are all loyal Queensmen here in Jaffa. Why, I dare say it is the highest act of loyalty for a subject to rid the Queen, and her father, of such incompetent administrators.”


    Jean doubted that opinion very much, but the fact that the rabble still felt the need to cloak themselves in his daughter’s colors showed social order hadn’t broken down completely.


    “What would you want, in exchange for your help?”


    The Jew rose and looked him right in the eyes. He has the eyes of a soldier. Whatever else I may think of him, he has those. “I’d want a command, a place at your court, and the right for subjects of the Jewish faith to live and worship in the Holy City.”


    “You ask for much”, Jean replied bluntly.


    “I know. But I offer you much in exchange. I can get your ships sailing in two days. I can provide you scouts with knowledge of the land. I can rally the people of Jaffa to it’s defense, something you would say is important now yes? The Kings and Queens of Jerusalem have relied upon my people to provide physicians, tutors, and doctors. I say if you can trust a man to heal you, why not trust him to fight by your side. A treacherous soldier is much easier to defend against than a false physician. I will not betray you, no more than the physicians and tutors who have served this Kingdom for generations. You can see by the way I have taken control of this city, the kind of tactical skill you are dealing with. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather use those skills to twist the Sultan’s beard than pester lackwit mayors.”





    Jean thought long and hard. This man had a sense of pride, and yet he knew enough to keep a deferential demeanor. If only he was a Christian, Jean would accept the offer without the slightest thought, he was that desperate for a way out of Jaffa.


    “We can’t give you a formal rank, not yet anyways, but I can offer you a position by a side. You would make things much easier for both myself and your immortal soul if you would just convert to Christianity.”


    The Jew laughed. “And have all those years spent pouring over Talmund scrolls wasted? No thank you. That would be worse than your hell.”


    “I hear you have been excommunicated by the respectable elements of your community. Why continue to a faith that has disowned you?”


    He laughed. “Well we don’t have a communion to be barred from, but I see your point. Still, I am something of a high priest of the unrespectable parts of my religion. And even the respectable ones value me. I provide a valuable and useful service to them, and I hope to continue providing it at your court. You will find we can be quite useful for any ruler wise enough to use us. And you sir, strike me as a wise one, even if most others see you as a mere man in armor off to wack people with a stick. You have the look of a conqueror, and believe me, I know that look.”


    Jean had once found many things about this land strange. The exotic food, how even the commoners wore silks, the seeming obsession with baths, especially on the part of noblewomen. But by far the strangest of all was the tolerance shown to heathens and heretics, in a Kingdom that was supposed to be dedicated to their destruction. Gradually, Jean had succumb to the local customs. The food did not taste quite so strange after a couple of servings, indeed the spices improved it. He had dismissed the baths as eastern decadence, but then found himself feeling refreshed after a bath, and better able to take on the day’s tasks. It seemed as if he was to find himself falling for another eastern vice. Religious toleration. You win this one you old jackass.


    Jean liked what this man was saying, even if he detested his faith and his looks. He had need of a new dog and Hallel seems a good fit for the role.





    3





    Jean spoke to Savary right after he had sent Alphonse away.


    “Savary. I know I have not been as close to you as Alphonse. But I value your loyalty. You stayed by my side when few others did. I know you wanted more for your service. For what it’s worth, I had planned to give you a keep, maybe a highborn wife.”


    Savary erupted into a fit of something between coughing and laughter. “There were days when I was angry at how you favored Alphonse over me, your grace.”


    He shook his head. “It was a fucking stupid thing. At the end of the day I am a knight and you are my lord. You gave me plenty of coin and I spent it all on drink and whores. Oh they felt grand in the moment no doubt about it. But looking back now, I feel so empty. And at the end of the day the girl choose Alphonse, I doubt anyone would choose me for anything.” Jean took his friend’s worn hand.


    “I choose you Savary. I choose you because you were a dam good soldier. You needn’t worry about a thing. You took up the cross. You are a soldier of God Savary. Whatever happens to us here on Earth, you will be rewarded in paradise.”


    “Oh piss off, you know me better than anyone. I am a cruel, wrathful, greedy man who only found the good sense to fear god’s wrath as he was on his deathbed.”


    Jean looked him right in the eyes. When he spoke, it was as if he was giving a command. “That does not matter in the end. All that matters is that you give your heart, and your life, to Christ’s cause.”


    Savary sighed. “Believe what you will, your grace.”


    Jean held his hand through he coughing fits.


    “Is there anything more I can do for you?” There were tears welling in his yes. Tears for the most brutal man he had ever known. Why had god made him so soft? His mother had always said he had a good heart, but Jean had always felt those sorts of sentiment a weakness, and had done the best to block those feelings out.


    “Take Hallel into your service, and stay with me while I die.”


    Jean held his hand though the night as he began to fade away. As the sun peaked over the horizon Savary began to mutter feverishly, feverish.


    “Where am I? What is going on? Jean, Alphonse, mother? Where are you?”


    Jean held Savary and quieted him.


    “It’s okay good sir knight. Your in your keep. You’ve slept late. Your wife is downstairs with the children. Boys all. Your line grows strong indeed my lord.”


    “Savary nodded. “Is she beautiful.


    Jean smiled. He thought he knew his friend well enough to guess what he wanted.


    “She is your grace, the flower of the realm they called her, and beautiful still under your care.


    Savary bobbed his head and coughed. “Yes. Yes I know. I would never mistreat a lady. Only whores. Only whores and traitors and enemies. Not like what father did to mother. I swear to god I never let the dogs get in on it, or the horses or the cats, I’ll kill them, I’ll kill them all before I let them get to mother.


    Just what kind of life made a man like Savary. It was too late for Jean to ask. He hadn’t been there when his own mother died, when his father fell at the siege of Acre, or to hear his brother’s last words muttered on foreign soil. He hadn’t been there to hold and comfort Maria, who he’d sworn an oath to protect. And now it seemed even Savary would not give him closure at the end.


    “Yes, yes it is true. A strong lord protects those he cares about.”


    “My boys”, Savary called out weakly. “My brave strong boys, Jean, Alphonse, little Savary, take care of them, and my sweet lady wife.”


    Jean couldn’t help it if the rain got in his eyes, the rain that came in spite of a clear sky, and somehow managed to get though the roof. “I promise you Savary, your legacy will live on.”


    Savary was quiet for a time, his breathing growing weaker and weaker.


    As the end drew near he called out again, weakly. “Wench, Wench, I need me a buxom serving wench.”


    Jean instinctively came to the soldier’s side. Savary looked up disappointed. “You aren’t what I asked for, though I doubt the wife would approve of me plowing the regent any more than her serving girls.”


    Savary had a wide toothy grin on his face. “You should see the way you look. God if my insides weren’t all fucked up I would have laughed the whole time. Forget war and forget all this knight shit, you should be a troubadour my good sir.”


    He erupted into a spasm of coughing.


    “You knew it was fake the whole time?”


    “Of course I did, did you think I’d let myself die a half wit.”


    Savary’s last moments were a spasm of laughing and coughing.


    And there died a vicious but loyal hound. Jean couldn’t help but smile. Savary had gone out in the most Savary way possible. Would he be so lucky?






    Notes: So yeah this begins another stylistic experiment on my part. Let me know how you like my numbering of chapter sections.
     

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    Chapter 12: February 1214
  • JSB217118

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    February 1214
    Castle Belvior, County of Tiberas



    They met in the command tent by flickering candlelight. The war council consisting of Jean of Briene, the Poltiers brothers, the Count of Sidon, the Grandmasters of the Templars and Hospilters, and the irritating Lusingion boy. “My lords, it seems to me we must resolve things and soon.” King Hughes said from the head of the table, the spot Jean had hoped to claim. Alas the sneaky fucker had gotten to the meeting before everyone else, and claimed the place of honor. Jean could have fought him for it, but he had decided to be the bigger man.

    “A most astute observation your Grace, the army struggles to find supplies. Meanwhile our enemies grow stronger by the day. The longer we delay seeking battle the more time the Caliph has to concentrate his forces against us.”, said the Grandmaster Guerin. Of late he had been especially sweet on the King of Cyprus. In part it was a reaction to Jean forbidding him from executing the Saracen prisoners taken at Toron. Jean had thought such displays unchivalrous, and wanted to avoid them as much as possible.
    Taking on a Jew as a commander had not done him any favors with the Holy Orders as well.

    20200221190359_1.jpg

    The Count of Sidon made the next suggestion. “We need to wrap up the siege. I propose we fling a child over the battlements every day. By the end of next week they’ll be crawling to us for mercy.”


    “I consider myself a just man, but the heretics have driven me to such wroth, that I am liking your plan, my Count of Sidon”, said grandmaster Gurrien.


    Count Raymond looked like he was about to gag. His brother Bohemond was furious. “In addition to being barbarous and un-Christian, have none of you stopped to think what the Saracens would do to Christian captives after hearing of an atrocity like this. Like for example, I don’t know my wife and child besieged in Antioch?!”

    Siege of Antioch.jpg

    “They won’t give a dam about peasants”, said Grandmaster Guillame of the Templars with evident exasperation.


    “That’s a chance I am not willing to take”, said Bohemond.


    “And what weight does your opinion carry my dear Prince”, Balian Grienier spat the last word. “Most of your men, all measly 300 or so are off raiding Jeresh. All you have with you are your personal guard. And I reckon I am worth all three of them.


    Jean had heard enough. “All of this is a waste of time. The enemy approaches. Any serious attempt to take Belvior might be foiled by their forces. That is a risk we cannot afford. My scouts report 13,000 marching towards Ceasaria and another 6,000 gathering at Nablus. No doubt they plan to converge and attack us. We should find a suitable position and prepare for battle.”


    “All the more important then that we neutralize the garrison in our rear. Unless you are too much of a coward for that, Lord Regent.” Spat Gurrien.


    It took all the self control Jean had not to slug the Hospitler in the face. “Grandmaster. The Hospitlers have always fought valiantly in defense of our Kingdom. It is for that reason, and for the tender kindness of my late wife and Queen, that I forgive your trespass. But should you dare to challenge my honor again, I will have no choice but to resort to a duel to settle the matter.” They both knew the Jean was twice the fighter the grandmaster was. That didn’t mean that he would admit to being cowed though. The grandmaster cursed a series of foul oaths. “Well let us see what the true monarch her thinks”, he said gesturing to Hughes.


    The King looked around nervously. Jean had to laugh. He had tried to look important without making any decisions. Well now commend fell into his lap. Let the little shit see how much he liked being blamed for everything.


    At last he said “Grandmaster, I admire your courage in battle and your zeal in confronting the heathen. However I think Jean has made some observations that cannot be dismissed.


    He turned to the war council. “What say you my lords”


    The others hemmed and hawed and tried to maintain their pride, but in the end they all reached the same conclusion. An immediate assault was too risky, it was logistically impossible to stay long enough for a proper siege, and Balian Greinier’s suggestion was simply too barbaric to be adopted. The army had to move on, but to where? They left the meeting having made no progress.


    Jean decided he’d go to see the Baron of Haifa and the Mayor of Acre, who were in charge of coordinating supplies, as befit their mercantile inclinations.


    The explained the grim state of things to him and Jean in turn found himself grousing about the council meeting to them. It was probably because Alphonse had left to command the scouts, it was his report that had informed Jean of the converging enemy forces.


    They did not seems surprised at all by the discord of the meeting. “Most of us wanted to take no prisoners, or at least cut that bastard’s head off. We lost a lot of men in the assault. After enduring agony like that, a man deserves vengeance”, said Haifa, who Jean knew had spent the battle at the rear, claiming that he needed to “direct” the siege engines from afar.


    Mayor Amedee agreed. “While I would never go so far as harming a child, at least not at first, Sidon is not wrong that a certain display of force might be in order.”


    Jean growled. “At least tell me you would have hanged Gurrien for what he did, if he were any other man that is.”


    Haifa stroked his beard and got that annoying far away look that men who thought too much often had. “If he were any other man yes, but he is not. We cannot afford to alienate him.”


    Jean was about to say that he knew that when a horn sounded. One blast, that was for scouts returning.


    A party of knights was let past by the camp guard. They carried the royal banner, and Jean recognized the man at it’s head at once.


    “I’m surprised the Saracens didn’t shoot you full of arrows.”


    “They tried.” Alphonse removed his helmet. “And as you can see they failed.”


    “I’ve missed you good sir”


    “And you as well your Grace.” He gestured to a man in the formation. Credit to the Marshall, he was riding to every village to scrounge up men until the enemy were almost upon him. It’s how we found this vital news.”


    The man removed his helmet. Well shit. It was Marshall Yves, who had used his duties as an excuse to make himself scare. His wedding to a Saracen woman and not made him many friends amongst the nobility.


    He dismounted and kneeled. When he spoke he did so quickly and with urgency. “Your Grace, there is so much I wish to explain to you, but the matter I have before you is too urgent to be put alongside any lesser concern.”


    “Speak of it then”, Jean said gruffly.


    “Your Grace, I bring urgent news. The enemy army, all of it, has been seen converging on Haifa. I saw them when I was recruiting from a nearby village. I only barely made it out. Most of the recruits were not so lucky.”


    “I can second his account. We found him engaged in a fighting retreat from enemy scouting cavalry. The Marshall and his men fought well.”


    “Dam how well they fought, my family is in that castle. I have made improvements since coming into the barony but the truth is that Haifa will not be able to hold for long. We need to march at once.” Arnol’s tone of voice would brook no disagreement, not even from his King.


    “It’s not just the Baron’s lands that are at risk. Once they take Haifa, I have no doubt they will try to take Acre and capture the Queen. We can’t let that happen. It would be the ruin of the Kingdom”, exclaimed Mayor Amedee.


    “Those were my thoughts exactly. That’s why were rode straight for your camp”, said Yves.


    Jean grimaced. “You lords are son keen on forming a response that it seems you hardly need your King”, Jean said with biting sarcasm. He couldn’t let them forget who was in charge.


    Even more importantly, he couldn’t let the enemy capture his family. They’d probably treat them courteously, Saladin had always been known to be chivalrous to the wives and children of defeated foemen.


    Still, Jean couldn’t take the chance. With a girl so young, they might try to raise her in their faith, maybe throw her in his son’s harem when she came of age. Jean would not allow that to happen to his little girl. He wouldn’t let it happen to Maria’s little girl. He had pledged to protect her and failed. The least he could do was keep her daughter safe.


    On a more venal level, a regent who couldn’t protect the Queen would surely be deposed, and that was assuming there was even a kingdom of Jerusalem to rule over, which if Acre fell, seemed highly unlikely.


    It was ironic. He had moved the Queen and royal court to Acre to keep them safe, and yet the Muslims had only sent raiders into Jaffa-Askelon, preferring to head through Hebron and bypass the County’s fortified cities and towns.





    Jean called an immediate council of war to explain the situation. “Well it seems your plan to just sit and wait for battle has gone to shit, my lord of Breiene.” The grandmaster almost spat the last word. Jean’s resolve though was unbroken.


    “You will address me as your grace or I will expel you from this tent.”


    The grandmaster stood up, showing off his impressive physique. “With what army? Be careful good sir knight. We Hospitlers are not just one of the strongest armies in Outremer, we have friends all over Europe. The fool who angers us would have great cause to regret his actions.”


    King Hughes stepped between the men. “My lords, whatever else has happened the reality is that we cannot let Acre fall. My men will march with the regent.” The other lords gave their ascent.


    It was no easy thing to move a town of some twenty thousand souls, let alone move it at a rapid pace, and discreetly. They kept a tight formation, with the Templars and Hospitlers holding the front and rear of the column. The made good time, in spite of the difficulties. Still, everyone’s nerves were wracked.


    Jean sent Alphonse off to resume his scouting. Before he left, Alphonse advised him to put as much of the army as possible under the command of his loyal vassals. “The Cyrpiots and Hospitlers especially are not to be trusted.” He warned. Jean already knew that, but having Alphonse say it only strengthened his resolve. “


    They encountered the enemy host arrayed for battle, having evidently broken off the siege, or having never begun one in the first place. Regardless, they held the high ground on the slopes of Mount Caramel.


    Alphonse and the Mayor Amedee rode up to Jean. “We’ve scouted the enemy positions. They number around 13,000.”


    “But where are the rest? Jean thought for a bit. “They might be preparing to ambush us.”


    Jean would not risk deploying his cavalry just yet, he would need them as a counter if the rest of the Muslim army showed itself. Jean took up a position on a rise behind the battle lines to command the battle.


    The infantry formed up into three groups. The first, under Count Raymond, who had insisted on fighting with his men on foot, agains the usual protocol of his rank, was on the left.


    The center would be led by the Count’s vassal, the mayor of Tripoli, who was a brilliant strategist and had experience in leading assaults over rough terrain.
    20200823152843_1.jpg



    He would be assisted in this by Alphonse. Hallel would command Jean’s forces on the right. He would be joined by contingents from the Holy Orders and Cyprus, to make sure he did not defect to the enemy or attempt to spread subversion amongst the soldiers.


    Most of the nobles, including Prince Bohemond, and the commanders of the Templars and Hospitlers, would stay in the center and charge when the enemy had been softened up, or if the rest of the Islamic army showed itself.


    The entire battle line line moved forward, the skirmishers exchanging fire with the enemy. Occasionally squadrons of light cavalry would rush out and attempt to disrupt the the Egyptian and Turkish light infantry scattered about on the hillside.


    The Count of Tripoli ordered his men to halt and form a shield wall, but the formation was sloppy, Jean guessed the men had difficulty with the rocky terrain. In contrast the Muslim force on the left was able to flawlessly repel both arrow fire and the teasing charges of the light cavalry, including the special camel cavalry that Jean hadn’t seen in any European army.


    In the center, Alphonse and the mayor played a careful game of cat and mouse with the Captain of the Malmucks, whose banner flew above the battlefield. Both sides fainting and flexibly moving their infantry and skirmishers forwards and back, searching for an opening and covering weak spots.


    On the right Hallel was able to repulse all attempts to skirmish with his forces. The strength of the Jew’s shield walls would impress even the Romans of old. Meanwhile his own skirmishers counterattacked to devastating effect, raining arrows down on the lightly armed Ayubid infantry and sweeping their light cavalry from the field. Jean couldn’t help but contain his admiration.


    However the attack soon became confused and the formation began to break. Jean cursed under his breath. In his years of soldiering Jean had carefully crafted a commander’s voice. He used that now. “Baron Haifa, I’m leaving to inspect the right. Your in command here. We’ve practiced together, and I trust you not to do anything I wouldn’t do in the same circumstance. Do not disappoint. Am I understood?”

    “Yes your grace”, the Baron yelled back, but Jean was already riding furiously for the right. No doubt the others would protest, but he did not trust this collection of green boys to make the right decision. And while the Holy orders were skilled, after their recent quarrels, he had headed Alphonse’s advice and not trusted them with his interests.


    He reached the right under heavy arrow fire, where Hallel was in a furious back and forth with a flock of Bishops led by Bishop Aimery of Konstantenia.
    20200824074535_1.jpg


    “You cannot expect men of god to shed their blood on the orders of one whose people shed the blood fo Christ!” Exclaimed another of Hughes’s Bishops, Henri if Jean recalled his name correctly.
    Bishop Aimery.jpg

    “You are doing so under the orders of Jean of Breine, King of Jeruslum by marriage, who has ordered you to obey me. Defying me is defying him, and I think you both know the usual punishment for desertion on a battlefield.”


    “You dare speak such words to a priest of god Christkiller!”, exclaimed one templar Knight, who drew steel. Jean raced up and blocked the blade with his sword.


    “What’s your name Sir?”


    “My father called me Aimery, Sir”, spat the Templar. Well this will make things mighty confusing.

    1598229768663.png

    (picture.)


    “Well, Sir Aimery. Any scratch you make on my commander, I will personally inflict on you tenfold.” Jean shouldn’t have cared one whit what happened to the Jew. But it had been a long and bloody day, his nerves were frayed, and he would not tolerate the disrespect of having a commander he chose be gutted by his own allies.


    Bishop Aimery spoke first. “Your Grace”, my apology for the impasse. We did not want to trouble you”


    “Well you did a fine fucking job of that”, Jean spat, like a common soldier.


    “I understand your needs as a king, to find quality commanders I mean. And unlike some here”, he glared at his colleague and at the Templar knights. “I do not hate Hallel, in fact I think him a fine soldier. But he is not a Christian, and the fact remains that until he is baptized, he remains unfit to lead Christians into battle.” The priest exhaled a breath. Jean got the sense that he was not used to defying authority figures. The common soldiers didn’t seem to mind Hallel, but it was clear that the’d lost the respect of their leaders, who were men Jean needed. Should I really buckle to some ranting fanatics in the middle of a battle.


    Hallel spoke through gritted teeth. “Your Grace, it would appear that I have lost the confidence of those I command. I can’t hope to lead them if they do not wish to be led. I request that you relieve me.”


    He’s falling on his sword for me. “I accept your offer Hallel.” He turned to the Bishop. “Do not disappoint me. Continue the attack.”


    He bowed. “Yes your Grace.”


    Jean returned to his horse. “Hallel you come with me.”


    “I am in your debt”, Jean declared as they kicked there horses into motion.


    “I will remember that”, Hallel replied.


    Riding back to the center, he witnessed a commotion. The Mamlucks had launched a devastating charge, forcing the center group off the hill. The light infantry rallied and stood firm. Jean knew this was Alphonse’s work. The common born knight had a way with infantry that even an expected commander like Jean couldn’t help but envy.


    Jean watched in horror as the banners of the cavalry receded. That son of a whore means to leave me to die. But they did not flee. They wheeled around to the right, where a gap had formed between Alphonse’s troops and those in the center. It was a reckless move. The charge could easily scatter, or hit their own men. But the King was young and hot headed and no doubt though himself invincible.


    The charge took the enemy center in the flank, sending it to flight.


    The die was cast. Jean rode up to Baron Arnol who was pale in the face. “Your Grace, I tried to stop them, but the King said..”


    “Never mind what the Lusingion boy said, we’ll deal with that later. Send whatever reserves we still have to the right.


    Infused with new reinforcements, the right surged forward. The enemy must have thought Jean’s left was weakened, because he sent his left flank’s light cavalry forward. Jean hastened to the left with his personal guard. H was concerned that the left might have collapsed, but Count Raymond had halted them to devastating effect.


    “Mind if I join you my lord Count”, he asked courteously.


    “It would be my honor your Grace”, Raymond said with a laugh.


    The enemy line was broken. Unable to reform on the high ground, the outcome was inevitable. Jean couldn’t tell which broke first, the center or the right, but in the end it hardly mattered. The enemy was swept from the field
    20200221192350_1.jpg



    Cheers rang out from the battlements of Castle Haifa. Banners of the Knights Templar and Hospitiler, as well as the royal sigil were easy enough to find. A red drape was festooned with a cross to make a hasty banner of Tripoli. Jean spied an battered and worn old old shield with the quartered red and lilies on blue of Antioch, probably from the third Crusade being held aloft. So it seemed not even Bohemond’s minor contribution had not been forgotten. For a time it seemed all the old quarrels had been forgotten. King Hughes clasped arms with Alphonse and complimented his valor, while Alphonse returned the sentiment.


    Both of the Grandmasters agreed Jean had picked the right place to seek battle.


    The gates of Haifa castle swung open in triumph, inviting the victorious arm to rest and revel. The keep itself was not nearly large enough accommodate the entire army. A few lords and knights entered while the majority pitched their tents outside, or else took up quarters in the town.


    The castle itself was nothing impressive. A stout keep with a view overlooking a small town with a well developed harbor. Jean assumed the efforts at refurbishment had been courtesy of the current Baron Haifa, who was displaying his castle to the gathered grandees.


    “It’s not much, certainly not compared to what it once was. I thank the first Crusaders for taking this castle for Christ, but alas, I fear they were a bit overzealous in their destruction of the old town.”


    Bishop Henri could not abide this insult upon the Crusaders of old. “This city teamed with Christkillers and money changers. What was done was righteous.” Amery the Knight could not resist joining in. If anything any true Christian should regret the fact that any escaped, and that those who died did so by the sword, and not the flame. Unless you are a heretic lover like our good Baron Monsinguard. My understanding is that she is not of Latin blood.”


    Haifa rounded on him. “I am a man of god, be thankful for that or you’d be flat on your ass. But do not presume to insult me or my lady wife in my castle or I swear I shall give you a thrashing worse than the horrid things you no doubt like to do to alter boys. She is a Maronite Christian she took the Latin rite when we wed. No man can question her piety. As for your other complaints, since when was it a crime for a lord to wish his dominions be rich and prosperous.”


    Hallel laughed. “I suppose you think I’d be able to help improve your lands.”


    “Would you?” The Baron asked earnestly.


    Hallel laughed. “In the past I would have lied and said yes, taken your gold, and run off. But your Frankish honor must be rubbing off on me. So I will confess, I have little say where my people choose to establish themselves. That said, your business sense, and keen ability to administer justice, should go a long way to brining back Haifa’s lost prosperity.”


    They were feasted courtesy of Arnol’s wife, the lady of Bursa of Haifa. She was a plain tan woman who looked much like the servants that waited upon them, both in her physical appearance and in the modesty of her dress.
    20200824074431_1.jpg


    “I prayed for deliverance and I see my prayers were answered. Praise god,”


    “Praise god”, the men said in agreement.


    “Was our son frightened?” The Baron asked.


    “Little Adalbert is fine. He didn’t really understand what was happening. He will be so happy to see his father.”


    King Hughes seemed to be lost in thought.


    Baron Arnol turned to his wife. “Do we have any news for any of these noble lords?”


    The lady tapped her fingers together and twitched. “I..I..” Her husband took her hand with a gentleness that surprised Jean. “Take your time love.” He turned to the other nobles apologetically.


    “Oh yes, I cannot believe I forgot this, I am sorry your Grace. A letter arrived from Cyprus. It was about your wife.”


    The King was anxious. “Are she and the baby well?”


    She smiled. “More than well, you are most blessed your Grace. But I believe you should read the letter yourself.” She sent a servant to go fetch the letter.


    “Did you here any news from my wife, from the Queen?” asked Jean.


    “Yes my King regent, your wife and daughter have reached Acre safely. Things seem to be going well, though I was told their was some turmoil related to cats.” Jean pushed that bit of lunacy to the side.


    “Did she say anything about her condition?”


    “Her condition.”


    Jean sighed. He couldn’t be subtle around a dimwit. “Is my wife with child?”


    “I’m sorry your Grace, but if she is it was not mentioned in any of the letters sent here. Though she did mention some trouble with cats.”


    Jean didn’t bother to hide his disappointment.


    The servant returned with the letter. The King read it with a smile on his face. When he finished, he threw the paper to the ground. “It was twins all along. I am the father of two beautiful little girls.”
    20200221191220_1.jpg

    20200221191222_1.jpg




    “Condolences your grace.”, said Grandmaster Guillame.


    The king found that amusing. “Condolences. My good sir you are mistaken, I am the happiest prince in Christendom.”


    “But your Grace, I was told you were hoping for a son.”


    “And so I was, but I reckon two princesses are worth one prince. Besides, Alix is happy and healthy and their is nothing to stop us from trying for more once the war is done.”


    Jean couldn’t help but scowl. It was robbing salt in the wounds. At their wedding Jean had thought he’d gotten the better deal. Yet now the King of Cyprus had two twin girls and a pretty wife who adored him, while Maria lay beneath the ground, and had left him with only one measly daughter. If only it had been a son, then I could have claimed Cyprus. But it seemed God had decided to test him.


    Grandmaster Guerin stood. “Well your Grace, I would like to give you one last blessing. I will be writing to the Pope, requesting that he make you overlord of Outremer”


    20200221193423_1.jpg

    20200824082443_1.jpg


    Jean leapt to his feat furiously. “He has no right to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.


    The Grandmaster laughed. “His father was King, unlike yours. Amery the Second was one of the best. He held off the Saracens and gave these lands order and justice. Great dynasties have been made from less. Maybe your daughter will be allowed to remain as his vassal. All I know is that the Holy Land needs the leadership of a true King and not some up jumped tourney knight.”


    “What of the rights of the old nobility to reclaim their titles??”, Balian Grienier asked.


    The Grandmaster laughed. “They lost their rights when they let god’s holiest Kingdom fall into heretic hands. They brought their plight on themselves through their decadence, and I see no indication the current lot are any different.”


    Jean turned to King Hughes. “Your grace, you must refute this, immediately.”


    The whole room was silent. Finally the king spoke. “I am but a man, and kingship is decreed by god. I will follow the precedent of Charlemagne and leave the decision to the Pope and the High Court of Jerusalem.”


    Jean laughed. “Comparing yourself to Charlemagne, you are a humble one.”


    The King lost it at that. “Go fuck yourself Breine, I won this damm battle for you! The least you could do is give me some dammed respect. Though I suppose expecting you to act like a King is too much. You after all are just a mere consort.”


    Jean stormed out of the room. “I can’t believe I thought you a man of honor”, Alphonse spat at King Hughes, before following Jean.


    Mayor Amedee ran after them.


    Jean stomped all the way to the stables in a rage fueled haze. “Prepare the men, we’re leaving.”


    The Mayor seemed like he wanted to say something, but demurred.


    Grandmaster Guillame came running after them. “If you wish to keep your Kingdom you will listen to me!”, he called. That got Jean’s attention.


    “I know you are angry with the Hospitlers, and you have a right to be, but you cannot separate your force from the rest of the army. We still do not know where the rest of the Egyptian army went, or when their reinforcements will arive. If we are to win this war we must stay together. At least until our reinforcements arrive.”


    “And in exchange?” Jean knew the young Grandmaster was right, but wanted to get some reward for all his hard work. The Templars were a strong force, they could prove useful to him in many ways.


    Guillame sighed. “In exchange for working nicely with the others, I will keep the Templar order bound to Jeruslum for the duration of this Crusade.”


    Jean scowled. It wasn’t the reward he was hoping for.


    “He’s right, said Alphonse. If nothing else, doing so would allow us to keep a watch on the King of Cyprus.”


    Jean sighed. He deserved so much better. The traitors deserved to be punished. But right now he was in delicate straights and had few options.


    “All right Grandmaster, we’ll do it your way.”

    Note: So that was my first battle chapter and boy was it rough. Sorry for the delay, I just moved back into college and was also having difficulties writing battle scenes. School is going to be really demanding. I have to write a BA thesis, Read Anna Karenina for a Russian literature class, and write a paper on that, take a class on the French revolution and Napoleon, which involves multiple essays and if you can believe it an AAR for Napoleon total war, and create a Portfolio for a final English class. Considering my difficulties with battle scenes, and my schedule, future instalments will be delayed and I might change this story to be more of a history book AAR. You will still get plenty of characterization, my model would be George RR Martin's Fire and Blood. I am however still committed to finishing the Crusade arc in the conventional style by the end of this semester. Wish me luck. ;)
     

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    Chapter 13: April 1214
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    April 1214
    Acre


    Acre stank worse than any city Agnes had lived in. It’s brothels, taverns, and dicing dens made a mockery out of the term “Holy Land.” If Palermo was what happened when men of all faiths came together to forge a culture of high refinement and learning, Acre was it’s debauched brother. Here Christian, Muslim, and Jew united to commit acts that would make their poor pious mothers weep.


    [Agnes: And yet this city of sinners thinks itself worthy to judge me for the company I keep?]


    Two mobs had come before her demanding that she get rid of her cats. The first had been made up of local grandees, clad in fine silk and courtesy. The second had been ragged and angry. Agnes preferred the latter. That one she could order the guards to disperse. Her answer in either case was no. She would not give up friends, no matter how insignificant, to sate the idiotic bloodlust of superstitious nincompoops.


    [Raymonde: I don’t think it’s just the fact you keep strange company. You hardly ever see the people of Acre. You’ve held court twice since the capital was moved to this city and you hardly ever socialize with the local grandees. You conduct your counsels in secrecy and spend most of your free time either with Marajil and Mariyumah in the lab or with me in the bath].


    Agnes sent a splash of water Raymonde’s way out of irritation.


    [Raymonde: You try spending all your time with the wretched Burghers! Besides I don’t see you ever turning down an invitation to bathe!].


    [Raymonde laughed: I’m a people pleaser not dead or stupid.]


    They both laughed. Raymonde had been born in Jerusalem and known nothing but it’s customs her whole life. Whereas Agnes hailed from the Netherlands, where, like in much of the occident, bathing was frowned upon and viewed as effeminate and weak. Her father had once said that the Lords of Outremer had brought the fall of Jerusalem upon themselves by displeasing god with their love of sinful foreign concepts like bathing.


    [Agnes: Sicily gave me a taste of the finer things in life. But I don’t think there have been a people as obsessed with washing themselves since the Romans.].


    After all, the very bathhouse where the two women were now relaxing had been of Roman construction.


    [Raymonde: It helps a lot with stress, which we’ve had a lot of in recent years. I don’t think I would have survived the last year without them.]


    [Agnes: I doubt I could survive a week without them.].


    [Raymonde: You will have to get use to governing more than a mere city if you hope to be Empress one day.]


    Agnes smirked. Little Queen Isabelle did just fine ruling without a care in the world, though of course those carefree days would soon be at an end. Agnes’s had decided she was grown up at age twelve, the day her mother died, and also the only time she saw her father weep. Isabelle’s mother was already dead, Agnes was the only mother she had known. Would Isabelle grow up when she went away? Agnes sunk further into the warm water and tried to put all troubling thoughts at bay.


    The sound of hurried footsteps interrupted the women’s tranquility. Agnes tensed in spite of herself. Something always acquired her attention, and today she just wanted to lie in the warm water and give herself over to sloth. But the door slammed open and she knew that would not be happening. Marayumah ran into the room and slammed the door behind her. She slipped and with a shriek fell into the bath.


    Agnes swam over to her. The servant girl lunged from the depths, her hair tumbling over her face. She brushed it aside. Agnes held her with concern as she coughed water from her lungs.


    [Marayumah: My lady Agnes, the captain of your guards brings an urgent message.]


    [Raymonde: From what I know of De Margot, if he knew we were at a place like this, he wouldn’t hesitate to come himself.]

    20201227164449_1.jpg


    Bonson De Margot was by her husband’s account a fine soldier. He had accompanied him to the Holy Land as a man at arms and been knighted just prior to the start of the Crusade. However he was well known to have a weakness for women and whenever they conversed it seemed as if he was undressing her with his eyes. She was certain he did so whenever he interacted with Raymonde. And he’d done much more than that with Marayumah. Agnes knew this because her servant had become his bedwarmer and informed her of his every going on. Agnes was not completely blind to the realities of ruling, though even in this case she lacked the ruthlessness to command such things of any women, in this case Marayumah had suggested it herself.


    [Marayumah: Knowing me I will probably end up in his bed anyways. The best you could do is get some use out of it.]


    The three women got out of the bath and dressed together. Raymonde had lost the weight from her pregnancy and returned to her athletic form. Marayumah looked like the platonic ideal of beauty. The only imperfection Agnes could see in her body were stretch marks across her belly, the same as the ones Raymonde bore. Agnes recalled the conversation they’d had when discussing how she and Marajil would inform on their lovers. Agnes had pronounced herself grateful and swore to pay for the upbringing of any children that resulted, and to allow the women to raise them in whatever faith they chose. Marajil had laughed and said any child would die of shame from having a notorious whore like her for a mother. Marayumah though had been unusually solemn and said [you’d have cared for him better than I ever could.]. She’d then expressed her immense gratitude, before warning Agnes against making such open ended promises.


    They were all so loyal, Agnes didn’t deserve them. She could not help but envy Raymonde’s athleticism and feucidity, and Marajil and Marayumah’s beauty and sociability. She needed all of these to reach her goal, and yet lacked them. That must be why God had blessed her with friends to make up for these deficiencies in herself.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    They convened in the private counsel chamber. De Margot’s silks looked ruffled and his hair was clearly dirty. It was as if he had just thrown them on. His intense expression indicated that he had greater concerns than appeases.


    {Bonson;“Your Ladyship, I apologize for the inconvenience.”]


    His very professionalism put her on edge, so different was it from his usual behavior.


    “You could start by telling me what you inconvenienced me about?”


    “As you say. We have word from peasants fleeing the countryside.”


    [Agnes: I gave instructions that any and all refugees were to be admitted to the city and housed.] There had been raiding all over the county of Acre both before and after the recent battle The subtext of Agnes’s question was and why couldn’t you have dealt with this without dragging me from my bath.


    [Bonson: Your ladyship they bring word of a Saracen army heading for Acre. We believe the enemy wishes take the city by storm and have the numbers to do so.]


    Agnes’s heart raced.


    [Agnes: How many would that be?]


    [Bonson: We estimate their strength to be around 9,000. They are probably the part of the Egyptian army that was missing from the main force when your husband defeated them.].


    [Agnes: My husband commands far more than 9,000 and every day my father’s army grows closer. If we send word to them, how fast can they get to us?].


    [Bonson: They are at most a week away.]


    A week. A week was all they’d need.


    [Agnes: How many men do we have?]


    [Bonson: 500 your ladyship. And to be honest with you most of them aren’t much to boast about. I work with what I have, but the mayor took almost all of the trained men in the city and left me with boys, old men, and useless drunks and cripples.]


    [Agnes: I have heard one man on the wall is worth ten underneath. And were our walls not just improved?]


    [Bonson; Yes my lady, but some of these men are hardly worth three. Plus even if we had crack troops, that leaves us with 4,000 to deal with. And that is before we get into the issue of controlling the population. At the end of the day it is not the walls who decide things, but the men on them].


    [Agnes: Is this the cats issue again? There will be no eating of my friends here, is that understood!].


    [Bonson: That will not be necessary. The enemy only has a short window to take the city. Starvation will be no issue. What I worry about is panic. Refugees are already streaming in from the countryside. Add to this the issue of superstition and religion, and you have a combustable mix. The instant any of the clergy here of this they will demand we expel the Muslims and Jews from the city. And the Latins will demand we expel all the other Christian sects as well, just to be safe.]


    [Agnes: And you don’t think we should follow their recommendation.]


    Bonson shrugged. [I consider myself a realist. Many men claim they are willing to die for their god, few are actually willing to do so. Acre has proven profitable for all it’s residents. If the city falls, even to a “friendly” army, that could be put in jeopardy. Better to cower inside one’s own hovel and greet the “liberators” when they come over the walls than risk anything. Also I happen to believe no man should be punished for a crime he might commit.].


    She was finding she liked this Bonson much more than the gruff lecher of a guard captain. She could see a soldierly resolve in him, it remained her of her husband’s best qualities. Jean. His good qualities were few and far between. But she was counting on him.


    [Agnes: It appears we are in agreement Sir Bonson. I assume there are further issues to discuss related to the defense.]


    Bonson explained to her the layout of the city’s walls and how his men would try, and most likely, fail, to defend them.


    [Bonson: Forgive me my lady, but I feel I am not worthy of the burden placed upon me.]


    She smiled at him, in recognition. [Agnes: That is a feeling many of us are grappling with right now.]


    After she left the council chamber the first person she talked to was Raymonde. Her friend deserved to find out what was happening before the others.


    [Raymonde: Well the city has five hundred and one defenders now. I can’t see how different shooting Saracens can be from shooting pheasants.] Agnes smiled, leave it to Raymonde to say something so stupid and brave. Bonson would of course object, but Agnes already knew how she would dissuade him. Raymonde had proven popular with the people by patronizing widows, orphans, and destitute pilgrims. Every day when she rode from the keep she’d be beseeched by pleading hands, and she would take the time to pull a coin out and press it into each and every one of them, no matter how unwashed. Raymonde had always had a charitable side, but Agnes couldn’t help wonder if this extra generosity wasn’t motivated but he knowledge that the father of her son and once been amongst the vast hordes of unwashed that populated most of the world. The people, the soldiers, would cheer for Raymonde, as they never would for Agnes.


    Next she went to the chapel to pray.


    God, if you bring my husband to you I will forever be your faithful servant. I will lay with him every night and give him children whenever you provide, as is my duty. I will forever be a true and loving wife, mother, and daughter. I will put this over all other worldly ambitions of mine. Please god preserve me, preserve this city, and preserve the ones I love, Amen.


    She spent the entire day in devotion, skipping dinner as a small fast. She could not be certain if anyone had heard her plea.


    The vanguard of the enemy army encamped outside the city the next day. Bonson told her they flew the standard of Egypt and it’s vassal, the Sheikdom of Jeresh. A messenger was sent requesting to enter the city to negotiate it’s surrender.


    [Bonson: Our best bet is to buy for time.]


    [Agnes: So we should accept their offer without preconditions?]


    [Bonson: I wouldn’t go that far. We can’t let them inside the walls. If they see how weak we are they will attack, and all will be lost.].


    [Agnes: So we should treat with them under the walls?]


    [Bonson: My thoughts exactly. Though when you say we I assume you mean us, as in the defenders. Respectfully, negotiations like this are no place for a lady.].


    [Agnes: Do you honestly feel they are a suitable place for you?]


    [Bonson: As I said, I find myself overwhelmed by the gravity of the task.]


    [Agnes: Then I see no reason why I should be excluded from the negotiations. My husband appointed me to rule this city and this kingdom in his absence, and that is what I intend to do.].


    They rode out the city gates under guard from four knights. Above them flew the colors of Jerusalem and Acre. Agnes was vailed and wearing a cape adorned with the sigils of both her husband and her father. Since neither of them spoke Arabic, Marajil would act as translator. And since Bonson did not trust her, he insisted on brining on his own translator, a Venetian merchant.


    The Saracens rode close to the walls, with seemingly no fear of any treachery on the part of the defenders. Above them flew the banners of Jeresh and Egypt.


    It was quickly established that the merchant would conduct direct dialogue with the Saracen negotiators. They would treat with a high born woman, but a low born was out of the question, even if she shared their religion. The meeting opened with a speech from the enemy Sheikh,

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    [Marajil: He says it was very brave for a woman to treat with him. He praises your virtue and courage, while noting that it is a pity your husband was not around to protect you.]


    Agnes was going to say something when de Margot shot back. “Tell him I protect her.” The translator spoke as bid. One of the Emir’s soldiers said something and laughed while the man himself did his best to maintain composure, but could not help but make a small smile.


    “What was that?”,asked de Margot.


    [Translator: Nothing sir, nothing worth troubling the lady’s ears with.]


    Agnes scowled and thought this is exactly whey I brought Marajil along. She was a married woman, appointed to govern a city in her husband’s stead. Surely words could not wound her, especially if she couldn’t even understand them? Still it felt bad to be left out and mocked behind her back.


    The Sheikh spoke again. His voice was menacing.


    [Marajil: He says he has five thousand men with him now and many more on the way.]


    The translators face was noticeably paler.


    [Marajil: He says your husband has been defeated in battle, along with all the power of Outremear. The Kings of Europe may be coming to help you, but they will be too late. Luckily for you, the Sheikh is more merciful than your Frankish menfolk. If you surrender, you will be allowed to leave the city, along with your servants.]


    Jean, defeated? Her heart raced. She did not love the man. On some days she had struggled even to like him. But he was still her lord husband and she could not help but feel some concern for him. Far more importantly, he was her benefactor and protector, her partner in her ambitions, and the fulcrum on which her fate now drifted. If his army was lost, than so was Acre.


    Agnes wondered if the Emir considered her father’s Empire to be part of Outremaer. She wanted to ask him, but if he didn’t know about the army marching down the coast, it might tip him off. She looked to de Margot. His jaw was firm and his eyes were facing forward. That settled it. It seems I truly am too stubborn for my own good.


    [Agnes: Tell the Emir that we will not yield Acre without a fight.] The translator conveyed their words to the Emir. He shook his head and looked at them with a rueful, sad look in his eyes. He spoke some words, but the translator did not bother to convey there meaning. It was clear where things now stood.


    As they rode back she asked Marajil what the men had been laughing about. [Marajil: He said that Bonson was trying to play the role of husband but really better suited to a place in your harem.]


    [Agnes: Oh. I guess I should thank them for the compliment].


    [Marajil: What do you intend to do now?]


    [Agnes: Pray. What of you?]


    [Marajil: Scrub floors…and pray.]
    ——————————————————————————————————---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    “I want go fast like horsee!”, the little Queen demanded as the litter wound it’s way through Acre’s streets.


    [Agnes: If you are good I’ll let Raymonde take you on another ride. But remember what we talked about?]


    Isabelle nodded solemly. [Isabelle: Be quiet and brave. Do not speak unless spoken to. Touch the knights. Tell them they are heroes and that God is watching them. Then we will pray].


    [Agnes: Very good.]. Agnes couldn’t resist hugging the little girl tight. It was a big thing to ask of someone so little, but it was all Agnes could think to do to boos the flagging morale of the army. The idea had come to her when she was deep in prayer. Isabelle had been in the chapel as well. At three years old she was already impressing the Court Chaplain with her piety. It was an especially odd thing for such a rowdy child. Ever cynical Marayumah and suggested the two behaviors came from the same source.


    [Marayumah: She misses her father and feels alone and unloved. So on the one hand she acts out in hopes of getting adult attention. On the other she draws closer to the only father figure left who she believes will always lover her and have time for her. It’s an experience I am intimately familiar with].


    Whatever it was, the sight of this little child with perfect calm composure reciting liturgy moved her, and it reminded her of the way the destitute looked at Raymonde, as a divine miracle come down to grant them salvation. Seeing the ramshackle state of Acre’s defenders they had to be as desperate as starving urchins.


    They disembarked in the shadow of the walls. In front of them were arrayed a group of soldiers. Their was armor caked in dust. They stared at her. Isabelle stared back with her big brown eyes and a curious look on her face. Isabelle squinted back at them. “You are wearing armor. It is very dirty dirty.”


    Dear God what have I done!, thought Agnes.


    [Isabelle: Papa keeps me safe. But Papa away. Will you keep me safe?]. By God this little one’s a born orator.


    [Yes of course]


    [Every man here would die for you your Grace.].


    Isabelle frowned anxiously. [Isabelle: Oh don’t do that! God is watching over us and I know he will keep us safe. God is watching us and he knows if we are good or bad. I am scared of lots of things. But hell scares me the most. And it lasts forever.].


    [God is with us!]. Them cheered. Someone shouted Deus Vult!


    [Isabelle: All of you are heroes! God bless you!]


    The touch of a monarch was said to bring healing or good luck, and Agnes saw their spirits lift. They seemed to find her expression dignified, serene even. Agnes of course knew that she was merely contemplating the feel and look of the armor the men worse. But men often saw what they wanted to see, and these knights saw a child Queen blessed by god, and not a curious, if spoiled, little girl who only barely knew what was going on.


    They kneeled in prayer. And for the first time Agnes was sure God would not forsake them.


    [Isabelle: Can I go up on the walls and see the bad people?]


    It would probably be prudent to deny this request. But Agnes was too swept up in the moment to care. She climbed the steps of the wall with the men and boosted Isabelle up to let her peak over.


    [Isabelle: Why are they marching away?]


    That can’t be right, thought Agnes. But it was. Others began to notice as well. The enemy army seemed much smaller than both the Sheikh’s claims and the observations of men on the walls had led Agnes to believe.


    Perhaps their were more of them hiding behind the hills? They began to array for battle, with no sign of any reinforcements. Trumpets blew and the defenders scrambled to their stations. And yet when the Saracens marched they headed away from the walls.





    From the heights crested a sea of banners. They were massive, there was no way she could see the insignias from the city otherwise.


    The Sigil of Antioch


    20201227174754_1.jpg



    Tripoli
    20201227174747_1.jpg



    The Knights Hospitler
    20201227174801_1.jpg



    The Knights Templar

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    Cyprus





    And the duchy of Massa

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    Leading them was the standard of her father, the Emperor.

    maxresdefault.jpg



    And amidst the fray was the royal banner of Jerusalem. [Isabelle: Papa! Papa! Papa! Papa!] She wiggled in Agnes’s arms such that she worried she would loose her grip on the girl. Agnes pulled her back from the walls, but it would not stop her cheering. The men joined her in crying out in jubilation.


    For their King, for the King of Cyprus, for the Poltiers brothers. And most of all for the coat of arms of her father, the Latin Emperor.


    The vast tide of the Christian army tore through the besieging force like wet paper. The battle was over in a scant half hour. Agnes’s heart rose. This was a miracle. A true miracle.


    20200221193611_1.jpg

    Note: The picture spoilers that I will eventually make Bonson a baron and give him a wife. He does not have these things as of 1214.
     
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    Chapter 13 Part 2
  • JSB217118

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    April 1214 (Part 2)
    Acre

    The Crusading army entered Acre like a Roman Legion in triumph. At it’s head was the Emperor, Agnes’s father, Henri. Even though he had shipped her off to be married to a man she could not love, a man far below her social station, she realized she still cared for him and that deep down she still thought of him as her hero. Agnes remembered her childhood, when he would pick her up and spin her and call her “la mia piccola bellezza”, a reference to her mother’s Italian heritage. The Crusade for Constantinople had changed him. I should have prayed that when I saw him again he would be the man who left Flanders in 1201 and not the man I met in Constantinople.


    By her father’s side was a visage she could remember just as well, albeit with much less fondness, her uncle, Godefried. He was a mean man with a curt manner and eyes that seemed possessed by demons. Agnes had been afraid of him since she was little, and he had seemed to relish inspiring those feelings in his little niece. The passing of years had not lessened those feelings.


    Behind them rode her husband, and after him the King of Cyprus, and after them the leaders of the other Crusading forces. King Hughes was waving to the cheering crowd, with a bright smile on his face. Jean also performed the part of the conquering hero, but she had been married to Jean long enough to know what he would really be thinking. His pride would be wounded by riding behind the Emperor and at the side of the King of Cyprus. He wouldn’t see that her father was trying to show the rank of each of the Crusader states. As far as her envious husband would be concerned it could be nothing less than a slight to deny him the leading role at the procession through his own city. Irritation bubbled up within her. Why couldn’t he understand that others had concerns beyond sabotaging him. That they did not experience triumph joy or love specifically to rub his nose in there absence from his life.


    But then Agnes remembered her vow. True it had been her father’s army that had proven decisive, the royal levee not having up even made half of the Crusading host, but Agnes did not wish to risk divine disfavor by breaking her vow. At the very least she would try to be everything her husband wanted in a wife, and see how he reacted.


    The procession stopped just in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Isabelle stood in front of the Church, with Raymonde on one side and Sir Bonson de Margot on the other. Isabelle clutched at her stepmother’s dress, rocking herself in place out of sheer excitement.


    All eyes were on her. Agnes’s heart raced. She sucked in a breath, and spoke. “Soldiers of Christ. We must thank the Lord God for sending you as the instrument of our salvation.” Her Uncle smirked. “And as an instrument of death to these sand dwelling rabble.” Agnes decided not to address his rudeness. Instead she thanked each of the leaders of the Crusade individually, making extra sure to emphasize her dutiful love for both her father and husband. Jean seemed especially pleased by all the flattery. Hopefully he would be appreciative and pay more consideration to her needs. She hadn’t given him a son, but she had helped saved his kingdom. Surely that would count for something even with a grouch like Jean.


    It was remarkable that Agnes had been able to control her nerves over the course of the day. What was even more remarkable was that young Isabelle was able to contain her excitement for the sake of public decorum. Admittedly Agnes aided in this by softly cuffing the Queen on her head whenever she became too hyper active. Still she couldn’t help but be proud of the little girl. For a girl of three years old she had done much better than some other rulers would have done in the same situation, and this was after her remarkable display of maturity earlier in the day. Agnes was beginning to wonder if the Queen had not been directly sent by God to save the Holy Land. Whatever the case, Agnes felt the girl was marked for greatness.


    However all of the Queen’s restraint vanished as soon as they returned to the palace. Isabelle rushed towards her father who picked her up in his arms. He held her with awkward tenderness, like a delicate piece of glass he was afraid of dropping. “Did you pray for my return little one?”


    Isabelle smiled and wiggled around in his arms. “I did I did! I was a very good Queen! And God smiled down on us and granted us victory! Just like you said!” Jean smiled and kissed her head. “Yes he did sweet one. You have done both me and your mother proud keeping the city strong and loyal until I could drive and drive the Saracens out of these lands.”


    King Hughes interrupted this tender moment with a distractingly loud cough. “Far be it for me to intrude on your happy reunion, but one would do well not to forget the other valiant men who took part in this battle. Of course I claim only a small role in this for myself.”


    Jean turned away from the girl and towards Hughes, his expression filled with malice. “If you wish to boast have the decency to do so as a man instead of hiding behind a façade of humility.”


    Henri shrugged. “I am simply following the teachings of the Church. Pride and envy are sins, ones I have always been keen to avoid. God rewards this. My family grows. My real prospers from both foreign trade and domestic production, and as you have seen my armies are victorious in every battle they fight.”


    “Your realm may prosper further if It’s sovereign sticks to cultivating his own garden and does. Not seek to take what does not belong to him.” If a snarling dog could talk it would have sounded much like her husband.


    Hughes’s’ response bore a tone of icy courtesy. “You accuse me of evasiveness, yet choose to hide the meaning of your own words. If you are trying to say something just say it. If you would like me to be out of your affairs just say the word and I will take my men home. I am not so vain as to impose myself where I am not wanted. Say the word and I will take my men and get back on the boat to Cyprus, though I'm sure a good number of your daughter's liegemen would wish to travel with me."


    The Emperor, glared at both of them. “Are you two going to continue sniping at each other like small children? No, that would be an insult to the actual small child standing before us, who has conducted herself with the dignity and grace befitting of a monarch. The both of you could learn something from her.”


    The men ceased their quarreling for the time being. The Emperor outranked them both and his success on the battlefield had silenced any doubts as to his worthiness to hold such rank.


    Isabelle paid little attention to the quarrels of the adults. She was more interested in finally meeting another reigning sovereign, and to ask after her Aunt Alix.


    “I’ve always wanted to have another Queen for a friend. My auntie is the type of Queen who doesn’t get to do anything, not even set her own bedtime. I am Queen in my own right, so when we play together I get to tell her what to do.”


    Hughes laughed. “And what pray tell will you do with your own husband?”


    “I’ll do everything myself”, Isabelle spoke with the confidence of a small child.


    Agnes’s father, the Emperor, shook his head. “That is impossible. And being a monarch isn’t all about fun little one. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to for the sake of others. And sometimes doing the right thing hurts.” Agnes wondered if her father was referring to his decision to wed her to Jean.


    Isabelle was still undaunted. “I’ll do it anyways. I’ll fix everything all by myself and be the best Queen there ever was”


    Hughes sighed “That’s an awful weight to put on such little shoulders. You will need somebody to help you. Somebody who will love and protect you and care for your kingdom.”


    Jean, naturally, took the King of Cyprus’s words in the worse way possible. “Her family and counselors can provide the Queen all the help she needs”, he said through gritted teeth.


    “Are we not family?” Hughes spoke as if he was merely restating a fact. His wife was, after all, Isabelle’s aunt.


    “She’s already betrothed”, Jean said with a soldier’s bluntness.


    “All of this talk is wasteful. The Pope and myself will decide the fate of these Kingdoms. And we will not make our decision until after Jerusalem is retaken. Is that clear?” Her father was just as blunt and angry as Jean.


    The Emperor’s wroth was a terrible sight, and the two monarchs found themselves overcome by it. They once again swallowed their pride and submitted to the Emperor’s will.


    It was at this moment that Prince Bohemond interjected himself. “If you will pardon my intrusion into your royal quarrels, the army has had a long march and just won a great victory. This deserves a celebration. A feat they will sing of for the ages!”


    Agnes wanted to tell him that this was the last thing she wanted. After having helped rally a city and performed her public duties, all she wanted to do was go somewhere where she would not have to see people for the rest of the day. But she knew that doing so would diminish her dignity and that of her husband.


    Salvation would come from the most unlikely of places, her father. “That is a splendid idea. I am sure my daughter would be honored to host. However in terms of readying the great hall, Agnes might their be someone you could entrust preparations to? I wish to speak with my daughter in private, with her husband’s permission of course” He turned to Jean.


    Jean smiled a little too broadly. “It would be a great hypocrisy on my part to interrupt the reunion between father and daughter.”





    “Splendid! The lady Grenier is first amongst my ladies. She has proven herself more than capable in my service. I believe she is in her chambers with Sir Alphonse and their child.” That or Alphonse alone, but Agnes did not mean to embarrass her friend by discussing such things in the company of men.


    Jean ordered one of his runners to fetch the couple.


    Meanwhile Agnes went with her father and little Queen Isabelle to a sitting room. Old Griffon started rubbing against her leg. Agnes picked him up and placed him on her lap. Scratching him behind the ears calmed her nerves, and was greatly pleasing to the old feline.


    Her father made disgusted face and pushed the wine away “Local fair? I see you are settling in to your new home.”


    Agnes weighed her words carefully. “It was difficult to find myself in a new land. The food and drink took some getting used to. But it was the people I met who truly gave me comfort. She thought of Raymonde’s first few acts of charity, her loyal servants, her trusty cats


    “And I am to assume one of them was your husband?” Her father spoke in a tone that indicated he did not believe this to be true.


    Agnes must have made some sort of tick to indicate to him that this was not true. She reminded herself that Jean’s future was her future. And that she must fight for that future.


    “My husband has always been dutiful and chivalrous. He means well and does his best to treat me tenderly. Alas he is the type of man for whom such expressions are difficult.”


    “There are days where I wished to impale the man.”


    “Please don’t”, she said quickly and in a deadpan style. Her father’s voice sounded more tired than anything else, but Agnes didn’t want to take the slightest misunderstanding happening between her father and husband. Such a clash would surely spell ruin for her.


    The Emperor held up his hands in a gesture of surender. “Oh don’t get me wrong, he’s a good soldier. And a pious man. You don’t have to worry about him taking to the bottle or seeking comfort in the arms of other women. But he is thin skinned and takes everything as a slight. It just boils my blood. I assume you know how he feuds with the King of Cyprus?”


    “I know they have a dislike for one another. But I don’t know what it is they clash over.” Her father then went on to explain the enmity that had grown between the two men over the course of the campaign. How some, in particular the commanders of the Knights Hospitler were saying that after the Crusade Hughes should be given some sort of overlordship over the states in Outremer. Jean, and later Isabelle could be asked to pay him homage, or he could even seek to claim the throne of Jerusalem for himself.


    Recognition dawned on Agnes. “And I assume that is why there was such tension around the topic of Isabelle’s marriage.”


    Her father’s resigned reaction confirmed that she had been right, and that the Emperor thought this whole affair trivial and beneath his dignity. “If only Queen Alix had given birth to a boy. It would have solved every problem that now besets these lands save for your husband’s overinflated pride.”


    Agnes was both puzzled and concerned. “I thought you feared the King of Cyprus and his alliance with the Venetians and Epirus.”


    “I did. However he failed to assist Epirus in the last war, as did Venice. The marriage seemed to have been more about commerce and getting his sister a husband before she dishonored herself. After meeting the man in person I believe we both wish to work towards the common cause of Christendom.”


    “So what is to happen to me and Jean?” The whole purpose of her marriage had been to counter a Lusingion-Venetian alliance. With that threat now ended, was she now just a discarded former heir left to wander the world with her landless husband, forsaken by her family and bereft of both money and honor?


    “I will not allow you or any grandchildren of mine to be reduced to poverty. Nor, as I have said, do I bear any ill will towards your husband. However I do not think it would be wise to intervene against a fellow Crusader, especially one backed by at least one of the Holy Orders. God would surely strike us down if we wasted this opportunity by bickering amongst ourselves. Once the war is done we can craft a solution amenable to all parties. If we are truly blessed God will bless the King of Cyprus with a son within the next few years. That boy can be wed to Isabelle once they both come of age.” He sounded firm in his resolve, both to protect her and to resolve the conflict without bloodshed.


    “But I can’t marry a baby! Papa said I’m going to marry a French Prince and he will be strong and handsome. Isabelle was too young to know the tragic reality of being a woman.


    The Emperor shook his head. “Sometimes we must do things we do not want to for the sake of the state.” His tone was firm, yet also somewhat sad and world weary.


    Isabelle crossed her arms and pouted. “In that case why don’t you marry a baby?”


    “A good point little one. I of all people should know that their are some vows that cannot be forsaken.” That drew a hearty laugh from Henri. The kind she’d heard from him in her childhood. It was a relief to see her father feeling more alive.


    Isabelle was obviously fascinated by Henri. After all, it was not every day one met a reigning Roman Emperor. Unaware of any sort of etiquette or decorum she began to pepper him with questions.


    “Do you ride a chariot in the Hippo-drome? Like the old Romans used to do?”


    Henri laughed at Isabelle wide eyed innocence. “No. Even the Greeks stopped doing that a long time ago.


    Isabelle quickly moved on to her next question. “Was your father the Emperor before you?”


    Henri sighed sadly. “No that was my brother. We took the city together during the last Crusade. He had a little girl just like you, but she didn’t want to leave home, so I became Emperor after he died.” Of course he left out the gory details of Agnes’s Uncle Baudoin’s death,


    Isabelle’s next question was an awkward one for the Emperor. “How many Saracens did you kill when you freed Constantinople?”


    Henri shook his head ruefully. “No, we did not fight Saracens for Constantinople. We fought Greeks. It is a long story, one that, one we have yet to see the end of.”


    There was steel in her father’s voice. If she had to guess it was directed towards Venice. They had tried to formulate an anti Imperial alliance, and he may have blamed them for the less than savory aspects of the war. Either way it was clear this was a topic he did not wish to discuss further. She told Isabelle of this, and that all would be explained to her if she was good. The girl protested at first but Agnes reminded her of the patience she had shown earlier. For good measure she offered to give her sweets. A servant was summoned to take the little girl out of the room to get her treats.


    Agnes thought now as good a time as any to ask after old friends. “How are things in Constantinople? The war has made it difficult to receive letters. I wish I could have written to Uncle Eustance, or Princess Anna. I hope they are doing well.”


    Her father looked at her sadly. “I had assumed someone would have told you this.”


    From that look, she knew it would be something bad. Agnes’s heart raced. “Tell me what?”


    He looked at her with grief in his eyes. “That your friend, Princess Anna of France. is dead along with her baby daughter.”



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    Anna, dead. It seemed so unbelievable. “She was a comfort to me. My first friend in the city.” Agnes felted sounded numb. Too dazed to process what she had heard.


    “When I was cold to you?”, said her father.


    Agnes tried to stammer something but he hushed her.


    “I failed you. I made you a marriage beneath you dignity and for poorly thought out reasons. Worse still I was cold to you. Ever since this throne, this burden, fell upon me, I have been feeling, uneasy. Our capture of Constantinople was a great boon and God’s will, but it was the fruit of Venetian deceit. With on my conscience, and hearing of the fate of your poor Uncle Baudoin, I grew paranoid towards everyone even those closest to me.”


    “She went through so much in life, and to have it all end like this…” Agnes didn’t know what to say next.


    “All is as God wills. You must control any anger you have towards him, I have some practice at it.”


    He got up from his place at the table, and to Agnes’s great surprise, came over and hugged her. She wanted to say thank you but the words would not come in between the sobs.


    When he spoke next his voice was soft and tender. “I will not upset you further child. There are things we need to discuss. I will leave them to another day. Just know that no matter what happens, I have always and will always love you.”


    —————


    A collision of cultures. Western and eastern sound and scents danced together in the air of the Great Hall. Her husband stood up. Let us raise a toast. To my loyal wife Agnes, who conducted herself with the courage and cunning befitting of daughter of Flanders. And to my daughter, our Queen Isabelle, who even at such a young age, and bearing in mind the deficiencies of her sex, showed herself possesses the courage of Alexander and the piety of Godefroy de Boulogne. She will do her ancestors proud. Together they foiled the Sheikh of Jeresh’s scheme to trick his way into Acre before we arrived.


    She and Jean sat at the head of the hall with Emperor Henri and King Hughes. Her father keeping the two monarchs separate. It was not exactly subtle symbolism.


    Agnes had wanted to stay in her room all night and sob, comforted by her friends, both feline and human. But she remembered Raymonde’s words, and the promise she had made God, and knew she had no choice but to put on a brave face and attend to her duties.


    Jean chuckled smugly. “Sadly the dear Sheikh had been abandoned by his sultan, who was so sure of victory he saw fit to send his army into Anatolia instead of concentrating on us. Now he has not choice but to skulk back to whatever sandy hole he crawled out of."


    20210118121523_1.jpg


    Sometimes truth was stranger than fiction. Agnes was no soldier, but even she found the decision idiotic. She tried to analyze it, anything to take her mind off her dead friend, but she couldn’t find an answer.


    Agnes was grateful that her duties kept her at her husband’s side, away from the rambunctiousness of the raucous revelry. She could fake dignified calm, but not happiness.


    Jean did not concern himself with her feelings. Nor did he overindulge himself with food and drink. Instead he focused on maintaining a gruff, but sober and dignified masculine charm, joking with comrades, promising a barony to Sir Bonson, and toasting the valor of the Kingdom. He pointedly excluded the Holy Orders from this toast.


    King Hughes on the other hand could not hold his liquor. “I AM DRUNK!”, he shouted at the top of his lungs.


    Hughes then preceded to deliver a treatise on rulership. “A good King must in all things be JUST! He must HUMBLE himself before God and be Honest with himself and others!”


    He then preceded to display that honesty by monologuing his thoughts aloud for the entire hall. “I thank God everyday that he let this lowly servant of his wed the most beautiful Princess in Christendom, even if she is my stepsister.


    Ah dammit I mentioned that! Why do I keep thinking about it? The Pope gave dispensation. So it’s ok to bed my stepsister. To think I thought I was going to be punished by God. Maybe I still will be?! Melesinde will be married in a few years and I’ll spend all my money on the wedding. That’s me alright, a wastrel! But it is better to be a wastrel than a mister.”


    He turned to one of his knights. “ERARD!! Don’t you dare tell Alix I got soooo talkative when drunk!”

    20210115094008_1.jpg

    “I…I wouldn’t dare sire”, the Knight stammered.


    Hughes held his hands to his head and cried out in despair. “She will be so angry. More so than when I was crowned in a barn.…But her face. Her is so cuuute when she gets angry.” With that he collapsed on to the table.


    Jean smirked at his rival’s plight. “A boy can drink all he likes, but it takes a real man to know his limits and conduct himself with dignity.” That might have been so, however Agnes could not help but find the earnest embarrassing boyishness in Hughes endearing. She certainly would be embarrassed if Jean drunkenly proclaimed how much he loved her to the whole court, but it would be a sweet thing nevertheless.


    The party was even more raucous at the lower levels of the hall, save for the table of the Holy Orders. Religion was so far gone from the place that even the non Christians seemed to enjoy themeless. The new commander, a ugly Jew more frightening than even Savary named Hallell diced with the common soldiers, while being glared out by Chaplain Humbert, who though a kind man and a good friend to the Queen, would not tolerate any apostasy spreading amongst the men.


    Neither Marajil or Marayumah seemed interested in giving any rewards to Sir Bonson. Instead they shamelessly flirted with every knight, lord or squire who drew their eye. Agnes noticed they seemed to take particular enjoyment around the tables set aside for the Poltiers brothers and their men. Marajil blew kisses at Count Raymond, who blushed furiously, and flirted with one of the numerous Poltiers cousins. Meanwhile Marayumah was enthroned on the lap of the younger brother, Bohemond, something that no doubt would have infuriated King Hughes, the Prince’s brother in law, if he weren’t passed out on the floor. They were both laughing, no doubt enjoying the other’s considerable wit.


    Her Uncle lay slothfully on his chair, muttering something about “that fucking lowborn whore.” That perked Agnes’s interest. She knew her Uncle had married a low born woman, supposedly in a fit of insanity. Could he be having regrets? Or could he be referring to Marajil and Marayumah. As Marajil would often say, “I am no whore. I could never take money for something I enjoy so much.” But they all knew men rarely made such distinctions.


    Raymonde of course had no such regrets about her marriage to a commoner. She had practically tackled Alphonse the first chance she had, to the amusement of his fellow knights. Apart from their ambitions, the thing Agnes and Jean shared the most was a simultaneous admiration and envy for the bond the old soldier shared with his young wife.




    ————


    After the dinner Agnes and Jean retired to their chambers.


    Jean broke the silence first. “I apologize for not having been more sociable to you. I had a lot on my mind.


    "I understand. You have been having great difficulty. I haven’t been able to be on my cheeriest either. One of my closest friends died in Constantinople."


    Jean sighed and shook his head. “Princess Anna, I heard. She is with God now.” We must all return to his side one day.


    Though she knew how impious it was, Agnes wanted to ask how that would help, but felt it would be a bad idea. She focused on remembering her vow.


    Jean awkwardly sat next to her and put his hand in hers. “Forgive me my lady wife, I would not ask this if the stakes were not so high…but what did your father say in regards to his succession?”


    “He..He..he said nothing. He seemed to want to discuss something with me. But he thought it would upset me at a delicate time.”


    “I see.” Jean sounded disappointed.


    “He did however, say he would arbitrate the conflict between yourself and King Hughes. Since the King of Cyprus failed to intervene on Epirus’s side in the last war, he the Emperor doesn’t consider Hughes to be his enemy. Furthermore my father doesn’t wish to use his army against a fellow Crusader. Regardless he said he would look out for us and any future children”


    Agnes knew her next suggestion would annoy her husband, but she felt it was something he needed to hear. “I know it was your great dream to wed Isabelle to the French King’s bastard, but my father is here and King Philip is far away. If he does no aid us in this Crusade he is unlikely to aid us in anything else. It would require Papal dispensation, but the Pope let Hughes wed his stepsister, so I am sure he will authorize this. A wedding between son of Hughes would unite the Kingdoms and would be pleasing to my father.” Right after the words left her mouth she felt the need to add that Isabelle would do fine no matter who she wed.


    Jean however jumped down her throat. “Their children would not bear my name. And I don’t think either you or your father are stupid enough to think that a king in his own right would allow my daughter to reign in her own right. And even a bastard of the Royal House will bring more honor to me than a mere Lusingion.” He spat the last word.


    No I will not break a betrothal with the King of France himself for the sake of a boy who might never be born, just to please your father. In any case if you are to think of any future children think of your own. Isabelle is my only daughter and until that changes her interests take priority, no matter what plans I make for the future, and no matter what ambitions you yourself may harbor. I will not sacrifice my position and crawl off to Constantinople to be a slave to the Emperor! You wish to be a partner in our common enterprise when you haven’t even fulfilled your most important duty. If you devoted half as much time to your own fertility as you do to thinking of the future sons of Queen Alix’s you might have given me a son by now. Maybe even twins like Hughes has.”


    The envious inconsiderate old cur. She had spent months praying, choking down vile tasting potions, and manhandling every dusty old relic she could find, all so she could conceive a child with Jean. Furthermore she had only brought up anything to do with her father’s opinions on Isabelle’s potential marriage because she thought it would aid her husband. Yet he didn’t see any of her efforts, and choose to focus on false slights. She was grieving for a lost friend. By all rights he should be comforting her. Instead even while the world hailed him as a hero, Jean of Brienne remained absorbed by envy and self pity.


    Agnes decided to strike back. “It is said a husband must please his wife in bed to conceive a child.” She was so sick of doing everything for him, only to receive cold comfort in turn. Jean glanced at her, seemingly astonished that she would hit that low. Agnes answered him with her brightest smile. Men had marital duties too after all.


    His face puffed red. He seemed like he wanted to yell. But to his credit the old knight was able to partially restrain his temper.


    “You are a young girl and you are grieving, so I will forgive this slight.” He sat up and paced around the room stewing in his own juices.


    “Just know, that I have been a kind husband to you, considering all you do to vex me. By all rights I should have seen through your father’s deception and wed one of Aimery de Lusingion's younger daughters. That family is of proven fertility.”


    She forgot her vow then. All she could focus on was the hurt she felt in her heart. She closed her eyes and thought of the words that would hurt him as much as he had hurt her. “You wouldn’t be any happier. You would obsess over the smallest slights and compare them to this false visage you have of their dead sister. Any wife of yours would be as miserable as I am! They’d be like to die of a broken heart. Only then, would you care for them, just like you only cared for Queen Maria after she was cold and dead and unable to tell you what she really thought. I can only pray that when you finally drive into the grave that you will show me a tenth of the love you showed her!”


    Agnes braced for the blow that must come. Sobs escaped her lips and she covered her face, already wet with tears, with trembling hands.. God not now. Please not now. Agnes cursed herself for being such a weak woman. Anna would have never let her husband treat her like this. Nor would Maria Komnenos. She was unworthy of being royalty.


    But Jean did not hit her. He stood by the bed, dumbfounded, shaking. For a brief moment she thought she heard him muffle a sob. He recovered his composure and coldly bid her goodnight, then stormed out of the room. I tried God, I really tried. What more do you want from me.
     
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    May 1214


    It was a sweltering day in the Council Chamber. Even in silks, Agnes thought she would burn up. Still, she would rather be here than anywhere else. Jean had allowed her to take part out of respect for her father , probably because he knew she was stubborn enough to force herself in.


    Still, her husband had made clear to her, she was to be seen and not heard. That was perfectly fine by Agnes. Though she would always insist on her right to be present, she had little to add to discussions of military matters, and hated arguing in public. That was especially true because she was the only woman in a room full of powerful men. Better to survey the lay of the land and then make her move.


    Represented were the commanders of the army, Jean, Emperor Henri, King Hughes, the Guillaume Grandmaster of the Templars, Gurrien the Grandmaster of the Hospitlers, and the Poltiers brothers. Jean had also brought along Alphonse, who he had elevated to the rank of advisor because of the resignation of Grandmaster Gurrien from the Council and his order’s renunciation of their oath of fealty to the Kingdom. Because of Alphonse's inclusion, each of the other men could bring one councilor. The only one Agnes recognized was her father's spymaster, Adrien of Madytos.

    20210307191211_1.jpg



    The meeting started off with the reading of a letter from Jean’s spymaster, Raymonnde’s father, the Count of Sidon. The forces left behind by the main army at Saphat had taken the city. The spymaster had since left the army and gone on a far ranging scouting mission, and was thus out of contact.


    20210310105155_1.jpg




    They then moved on to the situation in Anatolia. Armenia has broken into Civil war ever since the Rubenid Queen tried to revoke Tarsus from it’s Hethumid Count. However, both parties were willing to allow Crusader armies to transit their lands.


    20200221195449_1.jpg

    20210222194256_1.jpg








    The same could not be said of the Seljuk turks. They had allied with the Sultan of Egypt and were, with the help of the army the Egyptians had unwisely deployed to the region, attempting to intercept the Crusader armies as they crossed through Anatolia. The Turks were also involved in a war with the Greeks of Nicaea, who were supported by several Orthodox States. They were however loosing. An attempt by one of the Sultan’s vassals to subdue the Komnenos of Trebizond was also going poorly, due in large part to the assistance of Queen Tamar of Georgia.





    “The puppeteer comes to assist the marionette”, her father sneered.




    The King of Cyprus winced. “My brother in laws is doing very well in this war. The Orthodox may not be taking part in our Holy Quest for Jerusalem, but they bleed the enemies of God all the same.”





    The two men might have launched into a heated discussion on the merits and demerits of their fellow Christians. However, they were distracted by the opening of the door. “Ah drinks”, cried out Prince Bohemond with his typical enthusiasm. His face lit up when he saw who was serving them, while his brother looked down like an abashed child.


    Marajil and Marayumah came carrying refreshments for the Crusaders. Nobody batted an eye at being served by Muslims while plotting a Holy War. After all, Agnes thought, what better way was there to show superiority over an enemy than by taking their womenfolk. Because that was all they were right, trophies to be traded amongst men like the captured standards of old Roman Legions. Ever since she was a child Agnes had been learning and relearning the same lesson. The world was unfair.


    King Hughes’s scowled at the new arrivals. “Well, some news recently arrived from Antioch that should interest many of the men at this table. It concerns the lady Sybille. ”


    “My sweet wife”, Bohemond said, as if he was just remembering who she was.


    “Yes, my little sister, your lawful, loving, Christian wife, has given birth to a baby girl”. The King spoke as if he was attempting to drill the meaning of each of these words into the Prince’s thick skull. Agnes doubted he would be successful.

    20200221192751_1.jpg


    20200221192758_1.jpg


    “She is in good health, and wishes to convey her thanks to God, her love to her husband, and her wish for a Christian victory in this war.” Hughes did not take his eyes of Bohemond for the entire speech, nor did Marayumah.


    The Prince of Antioch looked like a trapped man. “Ah I am so glad that both they and Antioch are safe. Best to carry on with the meeting. I am told it is bad manners to bring up personal matters in such a setting. I will write to her when matters are concluded”


    Raymond looked at his brother with a smirk, as if to say nice dodge.


    Hughes seemed like he wanted to beat the Prince into a pulp, while Marayumah had an unexpectedly pained look on her face.


    Marayumah was the Prince’s lover. Lords often took such women into their beds, caring little for their thoughts, feelings, or moral character. But Bohemond had not just plied her with gifts and money, he’d given her a hijab that once belonged to his Muslim wet-nurse. Marayumah now wore it on her head, as she did every day.


    Marayumah claimed to find enjoyment out of these trysts, and the information she gained proved to be valuable. However, she seemed to feel something more for this boy, and from what Agnes had seen, he felt the same for her.



    Raymond de Poltiers had recently jumped out of his shell. He was proving to be quite popular at dinner and had even gotten himself a lover. Of course, what Raymond counted as living in sin and what Marajil thought were two very different things. He confided in her, cried on her shoulder, and once even kissed her, but little else had happened, to Marajil’s amusement and consternation. The furthest they had gone was cuddling together, which had led Raymond to apologize to Marajil for dishonoring her. Of course, the Saracen woman’s honor had been lost long ago. Raymond often turned to her for advice on the real object of his desire, some knight's daughter. Marajil was happy to indulge him, she found his modesty cute. She indulged her physical needs with the Prince’s uncle, another Bohemond, who seemed quite taken with her. Marajil and Marayumah would often compare their Bohemonds for the sake of fun.



    Finally, the men turned their attention to matters closer to home. The armies of the Iberian Kingdoms were soon to arrive in the Holy Land. If they landed in the south, they could rescue and refortify Jaffa-Askleon. Although the Egyptian army had bypassed the major settlements, that did not make the counties tranquil. Civil disorder had broken out in many towns, several small castles and holdfasts had been raised and occupied, and the whole county was suffering depopulation because of the Consumption epidemic. Jerusalem was suffering from the same outbreak. Grandmaster Gurrien deemed it a fine thing, as its depopulation would allow the city to be more easily resettled. Marajil and Marayumah kept their expressions carefully natural for this part. The Poltiers brothers, for their part, argued the best way to prove one's Zeal was to peacefully convert non-Christians. After all, had Christ himself not ministered to sinners. The Grandmaster responded that if they wanted to take off their armor, leave their armies, and go to Jerusalem to talk with the Sultan, he was more than happy to oblige them. It fell to her father to put an end to this pointless quarrel. He then laid out his strategy.


    The arrival of the reinforcements would allow the army to form multiple centers of gravity and be able to concentrate on sieging multiple strongholds with forces capable of independently defeating virtually any army sent against them. It was agreed the army would make another attempt at Tiberius. They would then fan out and retake the kingdom’s old borders, and their natural defenses, before then swinging back and Capturing Jerusalem. Agnes had not the slightest idea how these military matters would pan out. The men seemed confident in their plan, and so she was at well.

    -------


    At the end of the meeting, her father’s spymaster approached her.

    He bowed before her. "My lady Agnes. It is always a delight to see you, even if it is under difficult circumstances."

    "Mayor Adrien, how go your studies."

    He looked up at her in surprise. "Oh they go quite well, sadly this is not the reason for our meeting."

    "Oh How may I be of service to you?" It was a pity. The spymaster was a scholarly sort, and she had hoped to establish a connection on that basis.

    “I am told you have been sending your spies after a certain girl in your father’s retinue. Your father wishes this to cease at once.”

    “Am I not allowed to know what goes on in my husband’s castle?” Agnes could practically feel her heels digging in.

    “It is not a matter of allowing. It is a matter of privacy and Imperial dignity.” He spoke in a polite but firm tone. The way a diplomat would speak to a respected colleague from a hostile state. This offended her.

    “Am I not a member of the Imperial family? The Emperor’s only living and legitimate issue? Is my dignity not affected by my father’s actions?”


    He sighed and muttered something about pitying "both of them", though Agnes had no idea who the other person was.
    The spymaster sighed. “Did your Uncle Godefroid put you up to this?”


    That was not incorrect. Her Uncle had not only implied that not only was her father seeing a woman, but she was ruling him, and turning him against his family. The whole thing had been a garbled rant and she found it a good idea to leave the room while he discussed matters with his "imaginary friends." Agnes did not believe the concubine, assuming she was even real, had been successful in turning the Emperor against his family, at least recently. Her father had been nothing but cordial to her and Jean, and had been very kind to her on his first day in Acre.

    However, she still had her concerns. As far as Agnes knew, her father had never tried to remarry or taken other lovers. Intellectually she knew their must have been some. But she had never seen any, and so chose to believe that Emperor Henri was unique amongst laymen in his celibacy. But even if he wasn’t, she still wouldn’t mind if he just took a woman to his bed every night. But he spent almost all his time with his army or at prayer. All his remaining hours seemed devoted to this woman, and not to her. They had hardly spoken since he’d hugged her. The joy of receiving parental love only made it more bitter when that affection was once again withdrawn.


    “And if he did?” She stared him down, and the spymaster stared right back at her in turn.



    “Then I would tell you he is misleading you, whatever he is saying. I hate to tell you this but the man is hardly sane. Furthermore, you must cease these intrusions at once. It is most upsetting to your father.” That made her angry. Why was he upset that his only daughter was trying to look out for him?




    “What right does he to tell me, a married woman, what to do in my own home? You may convey my love to my father, but you must also tell him that if he wishes to discuss something sensitive with me he should do so himself and not work though intermediaries.”



    She was surprised at the way the Spymaster looked at her with pity filled eyes.




    “As you say, my lady. However, I must say, you will be in for quite a shock.”




    She was with her cats when a messenger came inviting her and Jean to dine with the Emperor.

    ------


    Agnes decided she would wear a gown with the black and yellow colors of the House of Flanders Her father would like that.


    “How do I look?”, she asked her husband, half expecting some rebuke. “You cary yourself with dignity and grace my lady. You require no finery to make that clear. I can see what the people of this city saw in you.”


    She smiled in spite of herself. “Thank you husband.”


    Sitting on her father’s left was her uncle, Prince Godefroid, and on his right was…no. Dear god not that. “My beloved daughter…Sir Jean, please, have a seat.”


    They sat down, all merriment gone. The girl was tall and had reddish brown hair. She was even more beautiful than Raymonde and poised as well. Too poised. Like she was trying to act a part others had been born to play. Her one physical inperfection was a pale sickly coloring of her skin. She wore a red gown with a yellow trim, her father’s new colors. She was silent, her hands on her laps, as if she was a criminal being judged. Her eyes seemed to peer into Agnes, searching for something. Weakness no doubt, said a voice in her head that sounded an awful lot like Marayumah.


    “Who is she?”, Agnes asked.


    He looked at the girl, who was looking pained, and kissed her tenderly on the cheek.


    “She is my wife and Empress, Sophie de Constantinople.”

    20th of August Emperess Sophie is with child..jpg


    The girl was slow and measured in her response. “It is an honor to be in your presence, my lord and lady. I am eternally grateful for the Emperor’s kindness. I know it is hard to accept a woman like me as his consort. I promise to work to earn your trust and affection. I pledge to be a good and loyal servant to my lord husband until the day death do us part.” Underneath the flattery, there was a hint of steel. The girl intended to remain attached to her father until the day she died.


    Godefroid jumped out of his chair with a crazed look in his eyes. He seemed ready to throw a fit. “She is not who she pretends to be. This woman is an unnaturally cruel impaler who has bewitched my brother.”


    The young woman fixed Uncle Godeforid with a look that was equal parts hatred and terror.


    “SIT DOWN!" the Emperor bellowed.

    His brother obeyed.

    "You are one to talk about being bewitched. This lady is my wife and your Empress and you will treat to her with respect if you wish to continue in my service. Is that understood, brother?!” Her father almost spat the last word. Agnes had never seen him this angry.


    Jean seemed taken back as well. He seemed like he had meant to say something but decided against it.


    He turned to Agnes and Jean. “That applies to you two as well. I would have never thought my own daughter could spy on me! Your mother would weep if she could see what's become of you. I can only pray that you turn to God for forgiveness."

    "My mother would weep to see you in another's arms." That was the pleasant way of saying it.

    "This is exactly why I took my time in telling you. This and worse. If you are capable of spying on me, what is to say you wouldn't send knives after her? It was my sweet Sophie who convinced me that you had to hear before the rest of the world. And it would just break her heart if you reject her.” He seemed to regard this Sophie as both bride and child. A prettier, more obedient daughter he could take into his bed. Agnes felt the urge to vomit. Both she and her friend Raymonde had wed older men, but they did not have children any near her age to bring that difference in so stark a relief.


    She and Jean were both at a loss for words. The Ibelin had been one thing, and Raymonde and Alphonse had worked out splendidly but for an Emperor to wed a commoner. It was outrageous. The looks on their faces must have given them away.


    “Oh so you two think me a fool as well? Well I’ll show you. If any harm should befall my Sophie, you shall suffer the same harm but ten times! This lady is my wife in every way a woman can be. I do not wish to be cruel to you daughter, but I feel I have no choice. Failure to accept her or our future children will have grave consequences!”
    ----


    After the dinner Jean insisted they withdraw to a sitting room to discuss what had happened. Agnes agreed, she was tired of arguments and reeling from the revelation, and from her father's change in attitude. Better to get Jean's inevitable temper tantrum out of the way. Jean spoke first, after having had drinks brought for the both of them.


    “My nobles, my marshal, Ibelin, the bishop and now your father. Why men sacrifice so much for pretty girls, I will never understand it.”


    "Do you consider me a pretty girl?" Of course, ever prudent Jean would stay stuck with an ugly woman like herself for the sake of political expedience.


    Jean looked at her. It seemed like he was about to say something, then smirked and chuckled to himself. “Only I could complain about such a marriage. You are a younger woman than I have any right to ask for, and the daughter of an Emperor no less. If I am to be honest with myself I have hardly made any sacrifices to have you.”


    This was quite a reversal of attitudes from what he had said but a few days earlier. “You married a barren argumentative shrew.” After what had happened with her father, her self esteem was at an all-time low.


    “My lady. You should know by now I am a man who values my honor. I was excessive in chiding you. I know you were just trying to do what was best for me, as your wedding vow demands. I have the same problem with Alphonse and others who give me council I do not wish to hear. Perhaps your father's unfortunate marriage is a punishment from God for having taken your for granted.”


    He shook his head. "I think it was that youth that drove me to act the way I did. You know how all those stories go about old men and their young wives. It made me sensetive to the smallest of slights.
    God grants things in his due time. Perhaps when I stop moping so much, then he will grant us a child. You are a stubborn woman, but I am a prideful man. But at the very least you must admit a knight such as myself would be a better husband than a bookish craven like Jean of Ibelin, and by that same token you are ten times the woman the Chancelor's ugly low-born wife is.”

    They laughed together at this. The last time they had laughed together, and the first time they had done so in fact, was when they left Jaffa at the start of the war.


    “And we still have a chance to accomplish our goal.”, Jean added.


    “I do not wish to fight a war against my siblings, should any be born.”


    “But you still do wish to have a son of ours reign as Emperor?”


    Agnes had no answer to that. She had no wish to fight her kin. And yet she still had her ambitions. Now more than ever she wanted not to give up. She was stubborn like that.


    “Yes, I do.”


    Jean raised a toast. “May their union prove barren, or else produce only daughters.”


    Agnes knew she needed a son for her plans to work. And yet her time with Isabelle had left her longing for a daughter of her own.


    Agnes declined to answer his toast. Jean put his glass down, disappointed. “Did I do something wrong, my lady?”


    She sighed. “I do not want to wish unhappiness on my father. He was kind to me after the news broke that my friend Princess Anna was dead.”


    Jean shook his head. “I was not kind to you then. A true knight would have comforted you when you were distressed and not acted the stern disciplinarian.”


    Agnes shook her head. “It would not have made much of a difference. Husband I know the type of man you are. You are a good man, but not one given to fiery, misguided passion when you feel envy, or when something threatens your pride. Otherwise you are courteous and noble. However, you do not know how to manage a woman’s feelings. You are sensitive to any word said to you, but you do not know what your words mean to someone like me. I would like you to change, I pray you do, but I am willing to accept you for who you are. I just wish..I just wish you respected me the way you respect Maria Komnenos. When you complimented my leadership during the siege, that meant more than when you called me beautiful. Pleas Jean. You say I am dignified. Then treat me with the dignity I deserve.”


    They were both somewhat taken aback by this. The words had just flown from her mouth like she had been bottling them up all this time.


    Jean laughed. You know, both you and the Komnenos Queen have a way of showing me my own mistakes. Very well, I shall make the next toast to our new partnership.”


    “I’d rather make a toast to the fruitfulness of our own marriage.” She smiled and drank her wine, trying to hold it in a seductive and alluring way.


    She got to her feet and extended her hand to Jean. He took it. He trembled , it was obvious a woman had not held him in a while. He held her like he was afraid she would break He didn’t speak. He held her, his hand on the small of her back, and stared into her eyes. She saw the neediness that so vexed her and everyone around him. His courtesies and knightly valor were all armor to hide the frightened, lonely man underneath.


    She spoke in a whisper. “I’ve been so afraid. A dear friend of mine has died. My own father thinks me capable of murder. I don’t know who to turn to anymore. I feel so lost. My stepmother is more beautiful than me."


    “I..I’ve lost a good friend. Savary was not a good man by any means. But he was a good friend. I should be grateful to god for all these victories. I should be thankful for a lot more. But envy for others eats away at me. Some some of the my strongest vassals see to steal the kingdom out from under me. I do not know which sides all the states of Outremear will fall, or what the Kings of Europe will do. I am in as strong a position as I ever was. And yet I am afraid.”


    She kissed him then and pressed herself up against him gently as if to say; you are not alone. This was meant for herself as much as him. Agnes had seen the absolute worst of her husband. Yet there was still a fundamental decency to him. He could be her comfort for the night, and their child, whenever it was born, would serve as her instrument of defiance. To her father, to Jean, to the cruel world that she could never fit into. Agnes reminded herself that she was the one who wanted to spend the night with him, and not the other way round. She would not be the only one of her friends lonely at night.


    Gently she took his cheek, stroking it like a kitten. “Tonight, I will make you feel safe. In exchange, I want you make me feel beautiful. What say you to that my knight?”


    He answered by kissing her fiercely and pulling her into him tightly like a drowned man clutching at drift wood, and she felt as desired as any woman could be. They had both been so starved for love as of late.


    That night, as they lay asleep next to one another, drenched with sweat, Agnes prayed. “God, take mercy on us both. Bless us with children. A little boy for him, and a girl for me.” She thought of what to say about her father and his new wife. What she had said to her husband still held true. She could not wish her father anything but the greatest possible joy, even when she defied him. And as to the girl, well, what was she even like? Her Uncle had said she was evil. And yet to Agnes she seemed more afraid of them than they were of her. "Please God, give me the strength to know what I want.” No answer came by morning.
     
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    Jean did not make a habit of displaying his vulnerable side to his wife. Indeed he seemed embarrassed to be around her. He still paid regular visits to her chambers. These had proven to be more enjoyable than they had been in the past. He had made sure to accord her a seat on his councils, though she understood little of what the soldiers talked about.

    She was satisfied to hear news from Sicily. Friderich had won his war with the Swiss, and his son had been returned. Alas the war with the Empire continued, and his wife remained in Swiss custody as a guarantee of his good behavior. As always news of him brought back thoughts of the life she could have had.

    Jean felt more like a partner than a lover. They were both fine with that. Agnes fulfilled her vow to be a good wife. Maybe now God would bless her with the daughter she prayed for?


    20210312101227_1.jpg






    If truth be told, she was also embarrassed about letting her husband know her insecurities. While the couple had diligently fulfilled their marital duties since their wedding night, it was only in the last month that Agnes had felt truly naked in front of her husband. It was scary.





    She was discussing these developments with Marayumah, who seemed unusually lost in thought. Agnes was feeling more mischievous than usual and so decided to tease her friend. “What are you thinking about.”


    “Oh it’s nothing.” Marayumah swatted away the topic, but Agnes would not be deterred.


    “Is it Bohemond? He’s quite the charming fellow isn’t he.”


    She smiled sadly. “That he is indeed. My lady. Might I make a request of you?”


    Agnes smiled “Marayumah, you have been in my service through thick and thin. More than that, you have been my friend. If their is anything in my power to grant you, I will grant it.”


    Marayumah smiled back sadly. Like she was looking at a child that had no idea what it had just said. “Very well. In that case, I would ask that you dismiss us from your service.”


    Agnes was taken aback. No. It was as if a horse had hit her. Dismissed? But why? She had always been good to them. She had trusted them. These two Saracen women were some of her best friends, some of her only friends. Why would they leave her now?


    “Where would you go?”


    “With the Poltiers brothers of course.”


    “You would choose them over me?” You would leave me? After all the trust I put in you?


    “We must all leave the nest someday.”





    Agnes surpassed the urge to cry and scream. She wanted her case to be rational. “Leaving the nest is one thing. This would be jumping out of it with clipped wings. What is to keep the brothers from tiring of you and Marajil? You were the one who tried to teach me to be pragmatic. Surely you of all people would see how unwise it would be to throw out everything we have built together for a mere passing fancy, no matter how powerful that man may be.”





    Marayumah shook her head. “You are learning. But you are still so naïve. In the case of Marajil, she has pinned her hopes on her Bohemond. That man is so besotted with her he may actually propose.”


    Agnes felt a flash of hope. “If Marajil feels like he may marry her, then I understand. They can go with my blessing. But the younger Bohemond will never leave his royal wife for a heathen commoner. If it’s the security of marriage you want you have only to say the word and I will find you a husband. If it is a Frank you are looking for I am sure Sir Bonson would be delighted, or we could find someone among your own people, if you would prefer. I could even pay the dowery.”


    “My lady you are too kind. I mean that in every way. Your kindness endears you to me and makes it hard for me to do what I must. But it also leaves you blind. Once you decide you like someone you invest in them like they are a part of yourself, never considering that they might have their own agenda. After I take my leave of you you must find yourself another tutor. I do not think you will survive without one.”


    Her hopes to keep at least one of them dashed, Agnes was on the verge of tears. “I thought…I thought you were my friend.


    Marayumah extended her hand. After Agnes made no move to rebuff her, she placed it on her shoulder. “I am your friend. But there are some things more important than friendship.”


    “Like what?”


    “It sounds so foolish to say it, but love.”





    Agnes thought back to what she had with Frederick. If he had said yes, that they would marry, she would have done so against her father’s direct command. That would have meant leaving him, leaving the House of Flanders. At least for a little while. And yet had he said the words, she would have done so with no regrets. “I will allow the both of you to leave on two conditions. First that you summon Marajil to my chambers at once, and second, the both of you tell me the whole and complete truth about yourselves. I am done being lied to.”


    Marayumah nodded. “You are learning.” Agnes did not want to learn these things. She wanted to be at home with her cats, and her friends, and her Friederich. But that was impossible.


    Marayumah soon returned with Marajil. Where they both had once been so cheerful, they now held blank expressions on their faces.


    Marajil struggled to speak. “As a thanks for all you have done for me, I should tell you the truth. My potion did nothing to help the lady Raymonde. At least directly. The way you described her, she was nervous. So I figured that if she thought she had received some sort of miracle cure, she would relax herself. That would make the brith go quicker and easier. And in that I was proven right.”


    That didn’t seem so bad. “So you did help? But then why lie to me?”


    “My lady. We needed you. After the Bishop’s imprisonment, things were not so good for myself and Marayumah. It was a miracle we were able to keep our lowly station at court. And if our families found out what we had done well….”


    Marayumah took up the conversation. “We needed you and we needed you to need us. Just doing our jobs, or even pulling off a clever trick or two just would not do. We needed you to depend on us as much as we depended on you.”


    It was all making too much sense. “So why did you have me taste those nasty fertility potions? Did you think confidence would help me, conceive?”


    They looked at each other.


    Marajil spoke next. “That was the lie we felt the worse about.”


    Marayumah took over. “We both took part in it. I was the one who suggested it. I figured that if we did something to really get into your good graces you would keep us around. And if we didn’t.”


    Agnes had never felt so deceived before in her life. If she had her father’s temper these girls would be dead by now. Instead Agnes tried to understand things from their point of view. Was this weakness or strength?


    “I asked you to work with me in my lab…”


    Marayumah was quick to counter. “When one such as you makes a request to one such as myself, it sounds an awful lot like an order. Or do you think so many serving girls wind up in the beds of knights and lords because they have no sense of modesty?”


    Agnes had never thought of it that way before. She had always assumed women of the lower orders were naturally wanton, or that any restraint evaporated in the presence of powerful men. Thinking of what her two former servants had spoke of put the merry events of days past in a much darker light.


    “So being my friend was like being raped?”


    Marajil laughed, but it was Marayumah who spoke next. “Don’t be ridiculous. The two of us, especially Marajil, really are genuinely immoral harlots. Don’t think of us as victims, at least in that regard. But if we are all being completely honest with each other, realize that you held power over us. You were kind for a mistress, overly familiar even. I at least wanted to tell you, or at least put something nice in their so you wouldn’t wretch it up all the time, but we feared the consequences.”


    Her wrath was no doubt the consequence they feared. “Am I an unreasonable woman?”


    “No, but you are a trusting one, and people like that tend to react violently when trust is shattered.”


    But Agnes did not intend to be violent, at least not physically violent. “You know, you are an absolute fount of wisdom, Marayumah. So tell me, how did you grow to be so world-weary? We are afterall the same age.” Agnes could taste the bitterness in her words.





    Marayumah shook her head sadly. When she spoke she seemed to be in the sort of haze old people were in when they spoke about the past. She had seen this in Princess Anna, and in Queen Maria Komnenos.





    “Experience is the best teacher. Cruel experience. I was once as unsure of myself as you are. Once, in what feels like forever ago, I lived for others. First, I lived for my family, for even if they mistreated me, they were my kin. After some time as a servant, I realized that way of living was doing me no good. I met a man, a knight who traveled to these parts with your husband. He was sweet, strong, and handsome, the type who could sweep a foreign serving girl off her feet and make her feel like she was the most precious thing in the world. So I became his woman and lived for him instead. By the time he had died in Egypt I had his baby in my belly. I now lived my whole life for that child. I was fortunate enough to befriend Marajil. She was the one who introduced me to Bishop Guilhielm. He took me in when I grew too big to hide, my shame, as they called it.”





    She went from wistful to angry.





    “I refuse to call any child of mine anything less than a blessing from God, the God of whatever book turns out to be true. I am beyond caring about them at this point.”





    Agnes, in spite of herself and Marajil reached out to her. “I..I’ve seen how other mothers love their children. I can understand how you feel.”





    The servant shook her head. “I thank both of you for your kindness, But no you can’t. Not unless you've had the father of your child, die in some distant land. Not unless you've held your little baby in your arms as she fights so hard to breathe and then just…stops. Not unless you have to watch other women being doted over by a devoted husband and cooing over a healthy son.” She put her hand on her mouth in a futile attempt to stifle the sobs.





    “I’m sorry.” Agnes moved her head down and patted Marayumah on the back.





    “You shouldn’t be. If all nobles were as kind as you, we would live in paradise. Instead, be thankful, and pray God doesn’t decide to punish you as he did me.” Marayumah sighed. “My little girl was so beautiful. She was small and frail and hardly ever cried. Still, I thought she would stay with me. Even now I could spend hours telling you of every little smile, every little sound she made, the feel of her head, how her bright eyes looked up at me and saw the world.”





    Marayumah, her cool, composed maid, the one who had instructed her in the dark arts of palace intrigue, burst into tears.





    “She passed, in my arms after only a couple of days. It was around this time that the Bishop informed me that his continued kindness came with..strings attached. I didn’t mind attending to his needs. I was grateful for the kindness he had shown me.” Agnes winced at that word, gratitude. Clearly a point was being made. She knew she needed to punish Marayumah’s insolence. But she found she could not. Besides, no matter what happened things could never go back to the way they had been before.





    “Still, I knew he was using me, for both pleasure and spying. I tried out other men, after all he kept Marajil in his bed as well, so why shouldn’t I return the favor? I lived for nothing. At the time I would have said I was doing it for myself, but I wasn’t, I was just trying to fill a void.
    Despite everything, I was …distraught at his fall. Still there was nothing I could do. I needed a new place in the world. That was where you came along. I was and remain, grateful to you. However, my experiences have taught me that living for the sake of others only makes your life little more than a shadow.”





    She chuckled. “You know it’s funny. I’ve been so happy ever since I’ve been with Bohemond. He makes me feel things I haven’t felt in years. When I am with him, I know what it is truly like to live for myself. To be happy, not just fill a void. I love him and I know he loves me. We cannot be wed, but I know he will keep me by his side. I am fine with whatever harsh glances or cruel barbs they throw at me. I know I will be going down the right path”





    This was to be against everything Marayumah had taught her “But you never advised me to be happy. You advised me to use my wits to gain power.”





    Marayumah sighed. “I suppose this is another sin I am guilty of. I did that because it is what you asked of me. But in truth, I do not think you are made for the cutthroat life. You are intelligent, and have ambition, but intrigue no fun for you, not like it is for me and Marajil. You have two desires. One is to be powerful. The other is to be happy. How you balance them is up to you, I was just following your orders to focus on the first aspect. You wanted my advice, I gave it, to the very best of my abilities.”





    If only I had been more persuasive. If only Freidrich had made me his wife. I would have been content to end it at that. But time could not be unwound. She could not return to her former love, anymore than Marayumah could hope to bring her baby back to life.





    Agnes turned to the other girl. “And what’s your sob story Marajil?”





    “Me?” She shrugged. ‘I was too smart, cunning, and curious about men for my own good. Nothing so dramatic as Marayumah. I’m afraid I have to make up for it with my good looks and sense of humor. Of course, my man actually wishes to wed me. If he wasn’t going to commit, I wouldn’t leave you even for a King.”


    Agnes smiled. “I see you value our connection.”


    “Indeed. And Marayumah is being overdramatic. This need not be the end. We could be your eyes and ears in the north. We will not live our lives for you, but we are still in your debt. If there is anything you have need of from us just say so.”





    Agnes could not think of anything she could ask for. “I will let you know when I have the need. You may leave with the army under the condition you just agreed to, and if you write down all the genuine medical or arcane knowldge, you do possess for my use. Do we have an agreement?”



    "We do indeed", said Marajil

    "I will never forget this kindness", said Marayumah.



    “Good, now get out of my sight. You have left me drained for the day.”




    ————


    As the day of the army's departure drew closer, Mayor Adrien approached Agnes with a letter. The “Empress” Sophie would like to meet with her, alone. Agnes didn’t want to speak to that woman. But she decided that she needed to at least hear her out. Marayumah and Marajil had taught her that first impressions could be deceiving, for better or worse.


    Sophie was seated in her chamber, alone. Like always, her clothing was modest. Even after her father announced their marriage, she still strived to humble herself before the nobility. It worked. Very few genuinely hated her. Most believed her father a simple fool, and her a sweet young girl doing her best in a role she had never expected to fulfill. Many of the younger ones no doubt hoped to worm their way into her bed should her husband ever leave her lonley.

    The Empress stood up and embraced her stepdaughter. “Sweet, Agnes, I’d hope you would have called on me at your own volition. For curiosity’s sake if nothing else.”


    Agnes was wary. “It seemed inappropriate, given how things went last time. Frankly, from the way he talked I though father would have you hidden away.”


    She sighed like she was recalling a fond memory. “Henri is so protective of those he loves.” She put one hand on Agnes's shoulder and another ever so briefly brushed against her womb. Agnes scowled at the implication, and at having her father sighed about by a girl younger than herself. The two sat down to talk.


    “I know all of this is a lot to adjust to. I know you would prefer to see little of me. But I fear I made a poor impression on you and I wanted to correct that.” Her speech sounded rehearsed, just like at the dinner. Like deep down this girl knew she did not belong.

    Agnes simply glared at her.

    The common girl stared right back at her, unflinching. This was the person hiding beneath the false modesty and genuflection.


    Finally Sophie spoke. “I sense I have been going about this all wrong. You’re a person who wants to trust. You value honesty. I’ve tried to be careful with my words, as it would make me easier to accept. But now I see it makes me come across as fake or manipulative, which would fit in to your expectations for a young girl elevated so far above her station.”


    Agnes was silent and hoped her silence was answer enough.


    “Then I shall be honest with you. For though I have told no lies, I may have massaged the truth. When I meet your father I was alone. God took my mother when I was little, my brothers died in the cradle, and my father was a poor man. He chanced it all on the Fourth Crusade. But he got sick and died in Constantinople. I was alone. I thought about entering a convent, I have always been diligent in my prayers, but I don’t think I ever really had the conviction.”


    “So how did you go from frightened orphan to bloody impaler?”


    For a moment, Agnes thought she could see a small smile on Sophie’s face. “They were brining back some Bulgarian prisoners to the city. There was an argument over what to do with them. They’d raided and destroyed some of the Latin settlements. I think the Emperor was making a point. Their crimes had been against women and orphans. So they were to be his judge. I saw that he wanted them punished, and they seemed like wicked men, and so I suggested that they be impaled.
    After that he seemed to take to me. Your father asked to enter his personal service. I think he thought we shared something. I know some men force themselves on girls like me. But that was never his way. He was always a pious man and was pleased when I joined him in church. We always prayed next to each other. Those moments were very precious to me. They brought life into a life that had been very dark.
    He was just so sweet and kind to me and for an Emperor, what worth is the virtue of a girl like me? I was content with just being his woman, for I trusted him to provide for me. I really did not think he would go as far as he did. For, the very next morning we went to a priest to say our vows.”


    Agnes was disgusted by the thought of her father taking a woman to bed. It was even worse that he had done so because she ordered a man impaled. It was righteous justice, and she was probably overthinking things, but Agnes could not help but worry that he might share his brother’s taint.


    Yet despite Agnes’s disquiet, there didn’t seem to be anything false about Sophie’s story. Agnes thought back to what her friend had said. Requests from someone who held so much power over you often felt like orders.


    “Tell me true, was he the one who first made a request of you or did you seduce him?”


    That took Sophie aback. She was used to having her own intentions questioned, not those of her spouse “He..he was the one who came on to me. But we both wanted it. I was given a choice. And it would be arrogant for a girl like me to refuse a man like him. Please don’t get the wrong idea. It was a sweet and tender thing that made us both very happy. And I am grateful for the life I have. Any doubts I had were gone the next day. Your father is a true knight. He cared enough about a lady’s honor, even a lowly orphan like myself to take her to his side. Of all the fronts I have put up, believe this one, I truly love Henri de Flanders and wish to remain by his side until the day I die. React to that as you will, it is the truth. I truly love him. I would be telling another lie if I said part of me didn't view you as a threat. But we are family, and that is a very precious thing for someone who has lost theirs. So for the love he bears you, I have tried to love you in my own way, even if it can never be the same as a normal stepmother would love her daughter.”


    Agnes had, of late, been loosing faith in her ability to tell truth from lies. Still, she could find no falsehood in Sophie's words.

    "I believe you really do love my father. Still, why come to me now?"

    She looked down, holding her hands in front of her person “I..I I may be in need of your aid my lady. Your Uncle, he loves me not, he tried to turn you against me. I do not know why he loathes me, his own wife is common born, and she had a past far less reputable than mine. Maybe one of his demon friends told him I was evil. Or maybe he views me as a threat Whatever his reasons, he hates me. And I fear what he will do if myself or your father am no longer around to stop him."

    Why would she care what he did when she and those she cared about were no longer alive? Unless....


    She smiled. "I have been unwell as of late. However, it has proved to be but the herald of good news"

    20210312094756_1.jpg


    "And so you have it, my last secret."


    It hit Agnes like a thunderbolt. This child could usurp her position, especially if it was a boy. She should have been furious.


    “The women in my family have suffered great misfortune in childbed. Fever or bleeding took my mother and all of her sisters. Even if I survive, your Uncle might still try to do something horrible. I have seen the madness in his eyes. I pray for his soul and for the lives of his wife and child. For they are my family now as well. Please, even if you don’t love me, this baby, will be your kin. God has blessed you with a family where I have none. He wants you to watch over your little brothers and sisters. Please, I beg you.” The girl’s hands rested near her womb. She was genuinely frightened, that or an extremely cunning actor.


    Agnes sighed “I do not hate you. And your children will always be family.” Agnes left out that families often clash. Especially when it came to issues of inheritance.
    “Thank you thank you. I promise to remain your advocate at court.” She smiled slyly. “I confess I feel a bit young to become a grandmother, but I shall pray that your marriage proves fruitful.” Agnes cooly bid her new “mother” a good day.


    ——

    Agnes bid her farewells to Jean and the rest of the men with the grace and dignity befitting a woman of her rank. She bestowed a stately kiss on her father the Emperor’s cheek. She gave two more to her husband and allowed him to embrace her, holding her body against his to get just a few more moments of feminine comfort before returning to the fight.
    Isabelle struggled to hold back tears, but calmed down when her father reminded her that God would watch over his flock. “Pray for me my Queen. Pray every day that I shall return.” Isabelle duly promised to do so. Indeed, she demanded to be taken to the chapel. The normally rambunctious little girl spent the entire day in religious contemplation, to the marvel of all who attended her.


    Agnes went back to her laboratory, made empty and roomy by the departure of Marajil and Marayumah. She had thought herself more determined than ever before to achieve her goals But what were those goals now? She could not bring herself to wish ill on her unborn half siblings as her husband did.


    The locals treated her with a newfound respect. For if she was a witch, then at least she was on their side. Yet as the days went by Agnes realized she derived far more pleasure from watching Isabelle play with kittens, riding around the city with Raymonde, or carrying out magic tricks that she knew would never amount to anything than she did from affairs of state. Deep down she knew she did not have the will to throw that all aside to compete in the world of politics. And if she did, what then?


    When Agnes imagined happiness, she imagined herself making brilliant discoveries in the arcane world that only she would know or care about. She imagined herself in a castle with a brood of sweet children, led by an adorably precocious little girl that looked just like her mother, and a doting handsome ,hunk of a husband who would sweep her up in his arms. (Her current spouse rarely featured in these visions) who doted on her and the children and valued her for her knowledge. She wanted both splendid dignity, and a simple happiness. How did one reconcile these feelings?
     
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    Chapter 15 Part 1
  • JSB217118

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    July 1214

    War was supposed to be a simple, honorable thing, especially when fought against enemies of Christ. Yet Jean was increasingly finding it was just a continuation of politics by other means.

    When the Crusaders marched out of Acre they vowed to put their differences behind them. For the sake of the common cause, and because the Emperor had threatened to flay the next man who talked about future territorial arrangements. “First, we will fight this war and wrest control of these lands into Christian hands. After that we may decide which pair of Christian hands gets to hold them.”
    nwDFssc3bM2hx643wXGUFu_rn5jvgwnpLVKljHRGoqgYrBThnsJMo3p78sMKl3qogv8DppyuklYNEpi2679HEvn5RuKhfnV8YwTB3A2oXQeBXA6GMAras5giXrD9YaFHnZyiQMK7


    Almost immediately after they left Acre, that vow was put to the test. The advance guard of the army encountered a force of around 3,500 Saracens. Alphonse’s forces pinned them down until Hughes and the Templars came up with the main army and smashed them. The enemy had been virtually annihilated.

    30NOmni89O6BSlkrmwd8eFCJo6pmDfqQwvXRkXK7GuwBRoF6fDwlaxVs8XjY8Op7DmpV79BMhA8KHWqQACRy5khSKcd3s0Xnbs-gQUHd12mK-sG7UtixrU58q076BaoAvBsAo4u-


    And no, Jean was not at all jealous that his friend got the credit for the victory. Why would anyone ask him that? For that matter why would he ask himself that question? Envy, of Hughes, Alphonse, the Emperor, and the Crusaders of old, was absolutely not clawing at his very soul like some ugly thing in the night.

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    The Emperor’s army, along with the forces of the Poltiers brothers, headed south to reassert control over Outarjordan. The ruins of Kerack were quickly retaken.

    The armies of Jerusalem and Cyprus, together with the Templars, Hospitalers, and Livonians, were to besiege Belinas, the last Saracen stronghold in the County of Toron, which they called Saphat. There they stayed for the rest of the month.

    Jean wanted to immediately take the castle and move farther south to the County of Tiberias. In this he was supported by the Templars, who in the absence of their Grandmaster, were being led by a triumvirate of knights, Payen, Guigues, and Aimery.

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    King Hughes favored maintaining the siege and was backed in this by the Hospitalers. That was until the Zellous, and not very intelligent Walih opened the gates of the castle for a sortie, only to instead have a man ride in front of the besieging force with a crucifix from the local church dragged behind his horse, while the defenders jeered from the walls.
    The enraged Templars attacked immediately. Grandmaster Gurien also ordered his forces forward, his face red and puffy with outrage, and Jean had grinned at Hughes as he committed his own forces. Hallel motivating the men by proclaiming, “There’s food in that castle, and women too! I mean to have both! Will you brave Christian men join me!” The soldiers shrieked in delight.
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    With Belinas taken, and more importantly in Jean’s mind garrisoned with troops loyal to him, the army headed south. They had word of multiple Saracen armies, mostly made up of ghazi’s from India, were marching south towards Toron. Jean, Hughes, and the other senior leaders agreed that if an attempt was made to siege down any of the newly retaken fortress, they could quickly march north, link up with the 9,000 strong army of Aragon that he was sure would land at either Acre or even better, Tyre.
    The Portuguese Army had already landed, and their king had sent a messenger informing the war council that they were going to take position just north of Jerusalem, at Nablus. The Latin Armies were so numerous that they could conduct offensive operations along the whole of the Kingdom’s borders, and when danger threatened, concentrate onto a single battlefield and crush even the largest Saracen army between them.
    At Belvoir they again faced the dilemma over whether or not to attack. Jean, as always, counseled attack. Hughes maintained his usual stance of caution. However, word came of a raiding force at Jeresh and rode to attack it.
    In the end, to Jean’s disappointment, Hughes commanders talked him down from his borderline suicidal course of action. Instead the assault would be led by the men least likely to be missed, Hallel and the native infantry. The hideous Hebrew’s shouted mix of lewd jokes and vulgar threats seemed to motivate the men far more than even the pious war cries of the Templars. A few hundred dead men later and the castle was in Christian hands.

    Tiberias was taken soon after in a similar fashion, with Hallel motivating the men by proclaiming, “There’s food in that city, and women too! I mean to have both! Will you brave Christian men join me!” Curiously, the Jewish community was spared pillaging, having all taken shelter before the walls were breached. Jean suspected that Hallel had something to do with that. The soldiers, pumped full of bloodlust after their victory, pillaged from the local Christians. Some were probably raped and killed, but not enough to cause Jean much trouble, such things happened in wars. The Muslim community of course suffered terribly, as was the will of God.

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    The city’s Christian population was gathered in the local Church to give thanks for their liberation. Jean noted how unenthusiastic they seemed about the whole thing.
    “We lost good men freeing them from Saracen domination and will lose many more before this war is done. They could stand to show more gratitude”, muttered King Hughes
    “Miserable ingrates”, said Grandmaster Gurrien in agreement.
    “We could torture their priests”, Aimery suggested with a twisted look in his eyes.
    “And how would that help us?”, asked Jean.
    Aimery smiled, “Well it would be good fun.”
    Halel chuckled at that. “You have a point Sir Knight.”
    “Who gave you permission to speak Jew?”, the Templar spat the last word like a curse.
    “Have you forgotten who we are?” Jean snapped at the templar knight. “We are knights, soldiers of Christ. We are supposed to be better than this. Have you no honor or pride? Do you wish for your order to stoop to the level of an infidel mercenary?”
    For once Grandmaster Gurrien found himself in agreement with Jean. “There will be no torturing of priests. These people may be ingrates, but ingratitude is no crime.” Jean was about to say something to Gurrien, maybe something that could lead to reconciliation based on their shared idea of honor when Hughes began to make a speech to the assembled crowd.
    “Christians of Tiberias, lend me your ears! We come as brothers. Older brothers it is true, for our Pope is the true head of the Church. Still, let us recall the story of the prodigal son. You may have strayed from the fold, but you are still our brothers in Christ. We know that you have had your problems with Franks in the past. That while you would still obviously prefer our rule to that of the infidel, you have viewed us as high handed, unjust, and ignorant of local customs. However those days are over. God has decreed that we return to this city and if we are to obtain his favor and maintain our rule, we must be just in our dealings with our younger brothers.”
    The audience murmured approvingly, if not uproariously. However Grandmaster Gurrien was far more impressed. “Now that was what a true King sounds like”, he glared at Jean.
    I do all this for God’s cause, and yet he still favors Hughes over me.
    Alphonse took it as more evidence that Hughes was trying to usurp the throne. And Jean was inclined to agree. They had to move quickly to establish their control over the city.
    That night they invited Hallel to drink with them. “It is an honor to be in your presence my lords.”
    “There's no need to be formal here, we are just soldiers sharing some drink before the next battle”, said Alphonse.
    Hallel smirked “Forgive me, but it is rare for men like you to spend time with men like me unless you have reason. And I am assuming you do not wish to hear my poetry or my thoughts on the Torah, though I assure you both are magnificent.”
    “No, we need to make use of your...other talents.” Hallel was a man without honor. The perfect man for the type of work that needed to be done.
    “And I assume we are not talking about my love of food are we?”
    Jean chuckled and shook his head. “No we are not. You know the talents we are referring to and we assume these connections and talents are why you spared your fellow Jews from the sack’s worst ravages.” Jean’s honor would not permit him to give the infidel Hallel precise orders, but he was sure the creature would get the message.
    “I see it is once again time for me to prove my worth.”
    “Indeed it is.”
    Soon some of the more pro Lusingion city fathers began to receive visits from certain local toughs, the disreputable elements of the Jewish community, supplemented by the scum of Levantine Christendom and the daggers of Islam. They were always polite, Hallel’s strict orders, the ugly man could be very persuasive. Some would even come for a visit while the local grandee was out of his home, helping his wives, children and servants with the chores. Be there to greet the man upon his return.
    After that they’d retire somewhere private for some conversation. They would tell the men of their master, who could be very generous to his friends if he chose to be so, and terrible to his enemies. Their master had risen high in the Queen’s service, and they could do so as well. These city fathers were strongly advised (for it would be impolite for men as lowly of these to command anything of priests, renowned Torah scholars, or prosperous merchants to follow the same course, to swear allegiance to the Queen and her regent. If they didn’t, well who was to say the next visit would prove as friendly, at this point a dagger or axe was usually somewhere in the target’s field of vision. The choice was up to them. And then the visitor would leave, often after paying their respects to the family, especially the ladies of the house.
    For some reason the hosts suddenly developed a deep appreciation for Queen Isabelle and her good father Jean of Brienne.
    King Hughes was baffled at the evaporation of his local support and confronted Jean about it at the next council meeting. The knight claimed, correctly, that he had never ordered anyone to harm Hughes’s interests in the city. The young King had no knack for intrigue, that had always been his spymaster, Hélie‘s forte. Alas, the spymaster was on Cyprus, along with Hughe’s Queen, her children, and Princess Melesinde, the last unmarried daughter of first Queen Isabelle. “I assume you must have made them some sort of offer they could not refuse”, King Hughes said to Jean. He is more right than he knows. Nonetheless, his pride compelled him to say that he had not resorted to bribery. “Call it what you will, the city is yours. As for the Kingdom itself, I reiterate I will accept whatever outcome is decided by the estates of this great realm.” The meeting then moved on to other matters.
    Hughes received word of a convoy of Saracen gold being evacuated from Jeruslum and requested permission to raid it. “Our humble monarch has a taste for gold does he not?”, Jean said with a smirk.
    “You will hold your tongue or put up your steel”, snapped Grandmaster Gurrien.
    “Having spent so much revenue to support your beleaguered Kingdom, I think it would be incumbent on me, as God’s humble servant to replenish the state’s coffers. But then, your blood prefers to steal from Christians.”
    Jean pounded his fist on the table. “You will not dishonor the memory of my uncle with this baseless accusation!”
    “He dishonoured his own dam memory”, Hughes snapped back. Before Jean could say anything else, the King resumed his rant. “That’s the thing with you Jean. You go on and on about your honour and knighthood and all that. But deep down you are just an up jumped tourney knight, puffed up on pride and green with envy, living off his widow’s fortune. I respect the rights of my niece, whatever they may be, but if Hatin was a punishment for the sins of Jerusalem, surely you must be so as well.”
    With that the King of Cyprus stormed out, along with his knights. It was agreed that it was for the best if the meeting was adjourned.
    “Alphonse, keep me company for the rest of the day.”
    “For what purpose, your Grace?”
    “To keep me from killing that mother fucking little shit stain!”
     
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