BALIAN OF IBELIN
Fear flooded the city like a plague. It swept down from the Church and through the streets to the citadel. The people of the city hurried towards the high battlements, desperate to glimpse what they were terrified to see. Bernard, John and Simon shouldered their way into the crowd and were carried along to the walls.
There were no soldiers left in the city anymore so there was no challenge to them as they climbed the steps to the battlements.
The sun was drawing close to the horizon, painting gold the plain beyond the city. A vast army, swollen to fifty thousand warriors, was marching into place. Even as they looked, the last formations hurried to close the gap remaining between them.
The city was surrounded.
‘Perhaps our leaders will attempt another parlay?’ John said.
‘It did no good last time and it will do no good now,’ Bernard answered. ‘The moment those fools refused to surrender, Saladin swore he would kill every Christian.’ He sighed. ‘Just as the first Crusaders killed every Muslim when they took the city.’
‘So we must put our faith in Lord Christ.’
Bernard shook his head, wearily. ‘Christ’s representative Archbishop Eraclius leads us now,’ he said. ‘So if preaching and whoring are needed to defend a city we have just the man to lead us to victory.’
They gazed out at the army arrayed below them. Most were infantry but to the rear trotted legions of horsemen, their spears glittering in the light of the failing sun.
But what caught their eyes lay directly ahead. Scores of catapults and mangonels were already in place, loaded with huge stones.
‘Surely they cannot conquer these walls?’ said John. ‘Not even with those machines.’
‘The walls might be strong,’ said Bernard, ‘but there are no soldiers left to man them.’
Simon pointed. A small group of horsemen trotted forward from the foremost Saracen lines.
‘Horsemen,’ he said. ‘Five of them.’
Intrigued, the three men hurried down the staircase to the gate. They waited with the crowd until a postern door slid open and the horsemen entered the city.
The leader of the group took off his helmet to reveal the lined and haggard face of an elderly warrior.
‘Balian of Ibelin,’ Bernard said. He turned a worried face towards the Ferriers.
‘What’s wrong?’ John asked.
‘In my youth I was one of Balian’s sergeants. When he married Queen Maria Comnena I made some jest about him marrying for a crown. I received a flogging and my dismissal.’
‘What has he come here for?’ said Simon.
‘His wife,’ said Bernard. ‘She’s here in the city. I was wrong you see. Balian married for love.’
The man who stood by Balian was a tall man of about the same age. Where Balian looked worried he seemed calm and relaxed. He gazed around at the city as if remembering good times he had experienced here. He raked his fingers through his hair and then stopped. He had noticed them watching him and a broad grin of recognition spread over his face at the sight of Bernard.
‘You know him?’ John asked.
Bernard nodded. ‘Jerome Sospel. Balian’s best friend and lieutenant.’
News of the horsemen had spread and a committee of churchmen pushed their way through the crowd. They were led by Archbishop Eraclius who rushed to embrace Balian.
‘Praise God,’ he said. ‘You have been sent to save the city.’
Balian shook his head. ‘No. I have come for my wife and children. Saladin gave me free passage to collect them. I swore an oath to stay in the city for one day only and not to take arms against him.’
A fierce cry of anguish rose from the populace at these words. Balian glanced around at the sound but clamped his jaw tight, determined to ignore it.
‘But that was an oath to an infidel,’ said Eraclius. He stepped closer as though about to whisper but he made his voice loud enough to carry across the crowd. ‘It is in my power to absolve you of your oath to the Saracen.’
Balian gave him an angry glare. ‘I have come for my wife. Where is she?’
Eraclius peered at Balian, his mind working swiftly. ‘She is in the palace. Go to her. Be joyous in your reunion. I shall come to you there later.’
The next morning the people of the city were overjoyed to hear that Eraclius had absolved Balian of Ibelin from his oath to Saladin. Balian was now free to take charge of the city’s defence.
‘What do you think of this news?’ John asked Bernard.
‘I don’t know.’ Bernard fell silent and shook his head. ‘Jerusalem is my home. Our delegates were mad when they refused Saladin’s terms; it condemned the city to destruction.’
He glanced across at Agnes who was singing quietly to their daughter. ‘I feared for my family,’ he continued. ‘But with Balian here…’
‘You think there may be a chance?’
Simon strode into the inn, his face shining with excitement.
‘Balian has asked for every man to join him in defence of the city,’ he said. He gave a playful punch to John’s shoulder. ‘It will be a glorious battle.’
John’s heart sank. This was what he had dreaded to hear.
‘I came to Jerusalem to be a pilgrim,’ he said. ‘I did not come to be a soldier.’
Simon stared at him in astonishment. ‘To be a pilgrim is a luxury at a time like this. The infidel is beating upon the gate.’
‘I will not kill my fellow man.’
Simon stared at him. ‘A Saracen is not a fellow man. He is an infidel, damned for all eternity. That is what the church teaches us.’
‘I do not believe it.’
Simon opened his mouth to reply but Bernard raised his hand to silence him. ‘Hush, both of you. We should not war amongst ourselves.’
‘I do not want a war,’ John said. ‘With Simon or with the Saracens.’
‘You may not want a war,’ Simon said. ‘But what if the other man wants one? What if the Saracen is determined to have one?’
Bernard turned towards John. ‘No one wants to fight, no one wants to kill. And no one here wants to make you take up arms against your will.’
‘He may have sworn to be a pilgrim,’ said Simon angrily, ‘but he never swore to lie supine before God’s enemies.’
John looked up, his blood swirling with rage at the insult. He checked himself. It was this rage that had made him come on a pilgrimage, this rage which he had to do penance for, this rage which he had sworn to master, for Christ’s sake and for his own.
‘Shall I fight the infidel alone, cousin?’ Simon asked in a cold voice. ‘Or shall I fight with you by my side?’
John said nothing.
Simon’s face quivered with anger. He strode off but before he could reach it the door was flung open.
A soldier looked around. ‘Is Bernard Montjoy here?’
Bernard looked at the floor for a long moment. Then he raised his hand.
‘Lord Balian wants you,’ said the soldier.
‘No,’ cried Agnes.
‘He commands it,’ the soldier said. ‘He demands it.’
‘Outcasts’ Book 1 of my Crusades series, will be published this month.